Carbon Neutrality, Net Zero Carbon, Carbon Negative What is it?

Every day, the press tells us that a country, a large organization, a multinational company etc. affirms its resolution to be “carbon neutral” in 2030, 2050 or 2060.

This is an opportunity to recall the meaning of this expression and that of related formulas: « Net Zero » and « Negative Carbon« .

A. Carbon neutrality is the balance to be struck between human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their removal from the atmosphere by humans. The difference between the amount of gas emitted and the amount of gas extracted from the atmosphere is then zero.

To this end, companies apply the carbon offset mechanism: compensating its own CO2 emissions by financing projects to reduce GHG emissions. Carbon offsetting consists, for example, in investing in tree planting, protection against deforestation or renewable energy projects. But carbon neutrality does not involve any commitment in terms of reducing GHG emissions.

B. Zero emissions, or Net Nero Emissions. Some more ambitious companies that have already achieved carbon neutrality are committed to achieving « net zero emissions« . They intervene upstream and trying to reduce the quantities of GHGs resulting from their activity. For example, Capgemini achieved in 2020 its goal of reducing its emissions per employee by 30%, by acting on the decarbonization of its high-impact operations: business travels and energy consumption in offices. Similarly, Google (which has been carbon neutral since 2007) has committed to no longer emitting CO2 at all by 2030, in particular by supplying all of its energy needs with clean energies.

C. The ultimate step is to become « carbon negative »: removing more carbon than is emitted, using Carbon Removal Technologies (CRT). The CRTs are the same as those used by the carbon offset mechanism: afforestation, reforestation, carbon sequestration in the soil, carbon storage, etc.

This is the commitment made by Microsoft: the company wants to offset by 2050 all the carbon emitted by its activity since its creation in 1975, offset its electricity consumption with renewable energies by 2025 and do without diesel for its vehicle fleet by 2030.