How Net Zero Carbon Differs from Carbon Neutral



Dr. Torill Bigg

Tunley Engineering, UK

West Yorkshire, UK

As understanding of the climate crisis increases and the harm to ourselves, the environment, business, industry and the economy that will follow, so a desire to not only reduce carbon but to be seen reducing carbon increases.

Two seemingly interchangeable terms often seen are ‘Carbon Neutral’ and ‘Net Zero Carbon’.

The two, however, are not the same thing.

Carbon neutral refers to a policy of not increasing carbon emissions and of achieving carbon reduction through offsets. While Net zero Carbon means making changes to reduce carbon emissions to the lowest amount – and offsetting as a last resort. The offsetting is used to counteract the essential emissions that remain after all available reduction initiatives have been implemented.

In both cases Carbon Offsetting removes CO2 from the environment. For it to count, that removal must be permanent and accredited or licensed. Projects can offer a range of benefits. As well as reducing carbon from the atmosphere, offset projects can be selected to also offer social and community benefits. Projects can range from local planting of trees to the funding of projects that empower families in developing countries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Examples include afforestation, reforestation and conservation. Alternative investments can also be made in initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as in cattle feed that reduces the methane output of cows.

Other offsetting projects enhance biodiversity, improve soil quality, food production or rainwater absorption. Projects that benefit soil quality are particularly pertinent to global warming and climate change, as soil is a significant store of carbon, holding three times as much carbon as the atmosphere – and the importance of soil quality has often been overlooked. Food production benefits are relevant too given that crop failure is a significant negative impact of climate change, devastating communities and forcing migration.

There are carbon offset schemes offered that are sold on an arbitrary average carbon footprint basis, as opposed to a quantified footprint. The risk with these is that they offer the temptation of an easy-to-buy option, which not only does not include any emission reductions but they also may fail to meet sufficient offset to address the problem of climate change. These are sold on the basis that a true quantification of your carbon footprint can be expensive, time-consuming and complicated but this need not be the case.


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How to cite this article: Bigg, T. (2021). How Net Zero Carbon Differs from Carbon Neutral; Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/pmwj109-Sep2021-Bigg-how-net-zero-carbon-differs-from-carbon-neutral2.pdf

About the Author

Dr Torill Bigg

Tunley Engineering
West Yorkshire, UK


Dr Torill Bigg is Chief Carbon Reduction Engineer at Tunley Engineering in the UK and a Chartered Engineer with over 20 years’ experience in industry specialising in innovative solutions to environmental protection. Torill holds a PhD from Cranfield University’s School of Industrial and Manufacturing Science, is the author of 7 published peer reviewed papers and is a Member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers. She can be contacted via www.tunley-engineering.com