Sustainable Development – a goal; Net Zero – a step towards the goal
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising ability of future generation to meet their needs. It focuses on all issues related to burden on the planet such as resources, minerals, water, and practices being adopted for utilisation, optimisation, and efficient management of resources. It’s a comprehensive concept to preserve the planet.
According to Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), net zero emissions are reached when anthropogenic (human activities) emissions of GreenHouse Gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. The balance between amount of GHGs produced and that removed from the atmosphere is known as net zero emission.
Both concepts i.e. sustainability and net zero relate and contribute to each other and are thus inseparable. The former is focused on macro level issues, later relates to action orientation towards emission mitigation. Net zero relates to accounting and balancing of GHGs as CO2 equivalent and focuses on all processes related to control of heat and global warming. Sustainability focuses on overall preservation efforts of planet through energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, material conservation, waste management and efficient utilisation & recycling of water.
GreenHouse Gases are compound gases that trap heat or long wave radiation in the atmosphere. Their presence makes earth surface warmer. This heat trapping phenomenal is known as greenhouse effect. Since industrial revolution, the accumulation of GHGs has accelerated this greenhouse effect causing global warming and climate change. Some of the common effects of GHGs are warmer oceans, melting snow & ice sheets, higher rate of evaporation, changing conditions for plants and animals, rising sea levels, more droughts, wildfires, and changing weather pattern. The principle GHGs are CO2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Fluorinated Gases. GHG emission can be traced to transportation, industry, electricity, commercial and agriculture sectors. Organic waste, wastewater treatment and refrigeration leaks also contributes such emissions. The average lifetime in atmosphere and Global warming potential (GWP) for these GHGs are given hereunder:
At organisation level, reporting of GHG emissions has been categorised into 3 scopes as under:
- Scope I (emission from assets and activities that fall within organisational boundary)
- Scope II (emissions on account of purchased electricity, steam, heat)
- Scope III (emissions from activities of organisation, occurring from sources not owned or controlled by the organisation.
Emission Conversion factors:
To achieve net zero emission in an industry, establishment, or a unit for a specified period, there would be need to calculate generation of emissions source wise and remedial removals activity wise. Few key emission factors having relevance to net zero objectives are given as above for ready reference. In addition, it is estimated that a tree sequesters about 20 kg CO2 emission per year with an estimated life of 30 years. 1000 units of renewable energy saves 750 kg of CO2 emissions, and about 4-acre land is required to set up 1 MWp (mega watt peak) solar plant. This would however depend upon irradiation level which is not the same across the geographical locations.
As per net zero study report by International Energy Agency in Jun’ 21, renewable energy (RE) will overtake coal by the year 2026 and Oil & Gas by 2030 on a global average basis. By 2050, RE to account for 2/3rd of global energy and 90% of electricity generation. Duo of policy and technology will play key role in achieving net zero by the year 2050. The Assessment Report 6 (AR-6) of IPCC has confirmed increase of earth’s global temperature by 1.1 deg.C over preindustrial era. As per AR-6, impact of climate change is evident from pole to pole and its dire effects can be avoided if aggressive action is taken now. Impact on bodies such as ice sheets and oceans will continue to be felt for centuries or even millennium.
During COP-26 (Conference of Parties-26th meeting) held at Glasgow UK, India committed to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. During the meeting India agreed to increase renewable energy capacity to 500 GW by the year 2030 and reduce carbon intensity of GDP to less than 45% by the same time. While US and UK have given a net zero target of 2050, China agreed for 2060. Major corporates/ organisations in India have also indicated their net zero targets such as – Indian Railways by 2030;
|0.075 (34% of air)
|kg/ kg of fuel
|3.09 (5% lesser)
|2.69 (20% lesser)
|3.19 (4 times of Grid)
|kg/ kg of fuel
|0.79 (35% of LPG)
|Waste (Organic/ paper)
|kg per kg
|0.289 (9% of Diesel)
RIL/ Adani/ EIL by 2035; BPC/ Amazon by 2040; IndianOil by 2046. Many more countries and companies have announced or are in the process to commit their net zero emissions.
World Economic Forum (WEF) has come out with a white paper on Mission 2070 focused on India’s green transformation. As per the paper, the transition is an attractive, vital and mandatory component of overall economic transformation. It may save lives, catalyse new industries, could perhaps create 50m jobs and over $15 trillion economic opportunity by 2070 ($1 trillion in current decade). Government, private sector, investors, civil society organisations and individuals need to step forward and accelerate next green revolution. Major sectors contributing to GHGs are listed as energy, mobility, industry, buildings, and agriculture. There are 4 key enablers to achieve this transformation such as green innovation, green finance, carbon sequestration and climate adaptation. India’s transformation will need technology, finance and leadership. The subject matter is likely to come up again in next COP meeting (COP-27) in Egypt in later part of the year. The meet could address major concerns such as green finance for developing world, reaffirm Paris agreement commitments, net zero commitment from remaining countries and firm decision on coal phase out. Since COP-26 came immediately after covid pandemic, incoming COP-27 is likely to have intense deliberations and serious commitments on net zero emissions and other sustainable measures.
Point of view
Undeniably, sustainability and net zero emissions are inseparable concepts. and calls for urgent drastic actions to save the planet. Role of technology and policy framework would be critical to create an eco-system to support net zero scenario. While sustainability focuses on macro level issues, net zero focuses on control of greenhouse gases and resultant heating effect on the climate. During various international conferences and studies, it is proved beyond the doubt that there is an urgency of mitigative actions to arrest the alarming pattern of global warming. The major contributors being electricity, fossil fuels and the way we handle the resources, firm actions need to be taken in respect of energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy, alternate fuels, carbon sequestration, capture and storage, efficient management of resources. Technology, policy intervention, green finance and leadership commitment could go long way in saving the planet, besides bringing in awareness and attitudinal correction among masses towards sustainability.
Sources: Official website of International Energy Agency, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Minutes of COP Meetings, Sixth Assessment Report- IPCC
Citation: This Insight may be cited as InfEneTy ‘Sustainability & Net Zero’ 06.10.2022
Tags: Sustainable development; Sustainable energy; Net zero; Clean energy; Renewable energy; Climate change; Environment; Sustainability
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