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Net-zero approaches must consider Earth system impacts to achieve climate goals

Kirsten Zickfeld, Alexander J. MacIsaac, Josep G. Canadell, Sabine Fuss, Robert B. Jackson, Chris D. Jones, Annalea Lohila, H. Damon Matthews, Glen P. Peters, Joeri Rogelj & Sönke Zaehle.

Nature Climate Change, Published 5 November 2023

Paper Abstract

Commitments to net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) or GHG emissions targets now cover 88% of countries' emissions. Underlying the accounting behind net-zero frameworks is the assumption that emissions can be balanced with removals such that their net climate effect is zero. However, when considering the full climate impacts of CO2 emissions and removals, there are reasons to expect that the two are not equivalent in terms of their climate outcomes. We identify potential contributors to non-equivalence, including impermanence, biophysical and non-CO2 GHG effects, and argue that these non-equivalencies need to be accounted for to achieve climate goals. Given key uncertainties about the full climate impact of CO2 removal, it is prudent to prioritize emission reductions over removals.


Access paper: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-023-01862-7

Press release

  • SFU, USA (pdf, 119kb)