The race to net zero – rhetoric or reality?

Published: July 15, 2021

Ahead of the COP26 summit in November, governments and institutions are announcing ambitious ‘net zero’ goals. Does ‘net zero’ truly mean no emissions, or is it just a piece of greenwashing to hide behind?

At the start of November, the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), billed as the most important climate summit in years. The event, which will take place in Glasgow, was originally scheduled for last year, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will bring together world leaders, campaigners and climate experts with a view to making headway on tackling climate change. 

While COP summits are a routine fixture on the calendar – they have taken place annually since 1994 – this one has a different flavour. For one thing, it will represent the first planned ‘global stock take’ since the 2015 Paris Agreement. Every five years, according to the terms of the agreement, member states must re-evaluate their policies in light of new developments in climate science. 

For another thing, the last few years have seen a mounting sense of urgency in terms of how we think about climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report, in 2018, reinforced that we only had 12 years left to limit our damage to the planet. The 2019 Global Climate Strikes, inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and her ‘School Strike for Climate’, was thought to be the largest climate-related protest in history, with some four million people taking part.

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