Carbon footprint and Race to zero - A decade for action

Environmental and social issues threaten our economies and the world we live in as human activities consume more resources that the Earth’s balance can provide. Climate change is one of them.

Human-induced climate change is witnessed in every region across the globe with adverse changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitations, droughts, and tropical cyclones…

For the most vulnerable ones who often have contributed the least to climate change, it is already a major concern, as they suffer the early consequences of global warming. More and more governments and companies are committing to accelerate climate action and initiatives are spreading around the world.

Climate change crisis – what is at stake?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - which represents, since 1988, an unprecedented international and scientific collaborative effort under the umbrella of the United Nations - states that global warming during the last decade is already of + 1.09°C from pre-industrial levels (1850) ) (6th report, August 2021) and agrees that global surface temperature average at the end of the century is very likely to be higher by 2.1°C to 3.5°C in its intermediate GHG emissions scenario based on current policies with GHG emissions stagnation, and by 3.3°C to 5.7°C under its very high GHG emissions scenario, the most pessimistic that describes a world where nothing is done to reduce anthropogenic emissions.

The physical manifestations of a changing climate are already happening and are increasingly visible across the globe: ocean acidification, rising sea levels, higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions... and accelerating biodiversity losses. Social consequences may lead to violence and conflicts, famines, people migrations...

If we go on with "business-as-usual", climate change will get worse and the impact on human beings will likely be catastrophic. The scientific consensus sets the increase limit at + 2°C from pre-industrial levels to avoid tipping points that could lead to breaking thresholds. 

The IPCC also tells us that every additional amount of global warming leads to larger changes and makes mitigation and adaptation more difficult.

For illustration, holding global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves, about 65 million fewer people being exposed to exceptional heatwaves and 10 million fewer people being exposed to rising sea level impacts compared to 2°C warming (Global warming at 1,5°C report – October 2018).

The Paris Climate Agreement was approved by 197 nations at COP21 in 2015 and agreed to hold the increase in global average temperatures well-below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Why does the timeline matter? 

Global warming is primarily linked to the unprecedented increase in the quantity of greenhouse gas trapped in the atmosphere due to our anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that have overwhelmed the balance of the carbon cycle.

TMI article on climate change gives more information about the physical science behind climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Main greenhouse gasses are carbon dioxide and methane and the increases in their emissions are linked to human activities as illustrated in following figures.

The IPCC states that there is a quasi-linear relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global warming. So, the more carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere, the more global warming increases. We can observe that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has been skyrocketing since the last 100 years.

In 2018, the IPCC calculated the net amount of CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases, that humanity can still emit while staying aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement target, which is called “carbon budget”.  

IPCC’s assessment suggests a remaining budget of 500 GtCO2 2 for a 50% likelihood of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (synthesis report of the IPCC Sixth assessment report - AR6, page 20).

Currently, the world adds typically 50 GtCO2 each year to the atmosphere and emissions are, so far, still increasing with the exception of the particular covid-19 period.

If we continue to emit as much GHG as today, we will run out of carbon budget … in 2030! 

In the same report, as transitioning from 50 GtCO2 to net-zero emissions to stop the increase in global warming will obviously not happen overnight, the IPCC has also simulated possible pathways for GHG emissions reductions overtime to limit global warming to 1,5°C.

These model pathways tell us that if we are able to quickly reduce GHG emissions from now to 2050 and to preserve natural carbon sinks, such as forests, land conservation, carbon neutral agriculture, then the Paris agreement can be reached without or with few carbon capture storage technologies (Pathway1 - P1 - and Pathway 2 - P2). 

If it takes a longer time to start decreasing GHG emissions, as it is still necessary to reach net-zero emissions between 2050 and 2060, then intensive carbon capture usage and storage will be needed through technological means (Pathways 3 and 4 - P3 and P4).

Given the current level of GHG concentration in the atmosphere, the IPCC states it is very likely, whatever we do, that the 1,5°C increase in temperature will be overshoot. 

To be able to achieve the target of well below 2°C, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) through both nature-based solutions as afforestation and high-tech solutions (carbon capture and storage, direct air capture, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, …) will be essential. 

These solutions are still controversial because of some specific drawbacks: afforestation is land intensive and high-technologies are not readily available or scalable for some. 

Another key takeaways are that:

  • whatever pathway, net-zero GHG emissions must be achieved between 2050 and 2060 either through reducing emissions or by capture.
  • GHG emissions must decrease by half between 2020 and 2030.  

There is no commonly agreed definition of what constitutes net zero emissions.

However, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) states that, for companies to reach a state of Net Zero emissions, it implies two conditions: 

  1. To achieve a scale of value-chain emission reductions consistent with the depth of abatement achieved in pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot and; 
  2. To neutralise the impact of any source of residual emissions that remains unfeasible to be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

To stop global warming well below 2°C and avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown and enhance possible adaptation, we must start to drop our GHG emissions sharply this decade, halve greenhouse gas emissions before 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions before 2050.

Are we on the good track? 

To be honest, so far, worldwide GHG emissions follow the worst case scenario built by the IPCC.

Transitioning to a low-carbon future sounds difficult because it is. We need to combine all efforts in a global-system approach: countries, companies, investors, individuals need to work together to change the way we are currently performing every activity, in order to preserve the one earth we live on. 

Countries representing over 90% of world GDP and nearly 90% of global GHG emissions have made pledges to reach net-zero emissions by around the mid-century.

But the current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), even if fully implemented, still fall short of the 2030 target of halving GHG emissions.

In addition, implementation is lagging and worldwide GHG emissions are still above the target level given by NDCs making the 2030 target even more difficult to be reached.

In November 2021, at COP 26, nations adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact, aiming to turn the 2020s into a decade of climate action and support

The package of decisions consisted of a range of agreed items, including commitments to:

  • phase down coal power
  • halt and reverse deforestation
  • reduce methane emissions
  • speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • strengthen efforts to build resilience to climate change with, for the first time, a financing goal for adaptation-specific-measures agreed globally.

International collaboration was also key within the Glasgow Climate Pact to complete the rules needed for green finance toward climate change mitigation and adaptation to mobilize public sector billions and private sector trillions and for carbon markets developments (the famous article 6).

Nations collectively agreed to work to reduce the gap between existing emission reduction plans and what is required so that the rise in the global average temperature can be limited to 1.5 degrees.

They committed to revisit and strengthen their 2030 target and to review progression to 2030 targets annually.

Also, besides the Glasgow Climate Pact, finance and business leaders committed to turn ambitions into actions through initiatives as the First Movers coalition, the Glasgow Breakthroughs or the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), aiming at accelerating business mobilization, enhancing scaling and fostering innovation towards a fair and just transition.

To learn more about the key positive and negative outcomes from COP26:

COP 27 in Egypt, in December 2022, main achievements were:

  • Loss and Damage Fund: One of the significant milestones of COP27 was the establishment of a loss and damage fund, which aims to address the adverse effects of climate change on vulnerable communities. This fund represents a breakthrough towards providing financial support for countries disproportionately affected by climate change.
  • 1.5C Goal: The commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels remained intact, emphasizing the need for stronger emission reduction commitments.
  • Adaptation Funding: The commitment to doubling the proportion of funding for adaptation efforts, agreed upon in Glasgow, was reaffirmed at COP27.
  • IPCC Findings and Health: References to "tipping points" and the link between climate change and health were included in the final text, acknowledging the urgency of greenhouse gas emission reductions and the role of medical professionals in climate discussions[3].

2015 Paris agreement target is still achievable but there is a tremendous gap of credibility between targets and actual implementations.

What about Singapore's emissions and Singapore's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)? 

On February 2021, the Government unveiled the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a “whole-of-nation movement” to advance the national agenda on sustainable development and to strengthen Singapore’s commitments under the United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

Under the Green Plan, Singapore aims for carbon emissions to have peaked by 2030, halved by 2050, and for net zero "as soon as viable" in the second half of the century.

During the 2022 budget session, the Government announced the decision to raise Singapore's ambition to achieve net zero emissions by or around mid-century in order to be better aligned with the Paris agreement’s goals.

Greater clarity on carbon market rules, which was an outcome from COP26, and increased global investments in decarbonization technologies will enable Singapore to achieve net zero emissions earlier.

Why should my organisation act NOW?

Since COP26, there is a huge shift in the way countries and companies think about tackling climate change. The effects of rising temperatures and the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing (droughts, fires...) are also part of the "wake-up call".

Increasing demand from a wide range of stakeholders such as investors, governments, non-profit organizations and individuals has led to a rise in corporate climate commitments.

All businesses need to face climate change consequences and prepare for the low-carbon transition.

Besides, the  IPCC reports (IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - AR6) are quite clear: the toolbox at hand, with a range of solutions at a cost inferior to 100 $ / tCO2e avoided, has the potential to reduce global emissions by 50% from now to 2030!

Businesses have, first and foremost, to catch-up for compliance as regulations will evolve to translate national commitments in policies including reporting and carbon tax and as supply chain requirements will increase. 

They can do much better and  step up to necessarily enhance their own climate change resilience and embrace the low-carbon transition while adopting sustainable strategies to engage their stakeholders: investors, customers, suppliers and employees.

Key drivers include:

  • attract/retain employees
  • attract investors (green finance, grants and subsidies)
  • enhance business & brand’s sustainability credentials
  • optimize operational efficiency by saving energy & other operational costs, addressing climate change risk assessment and fostering innovation. 

Race to Zero is the UN-backed global campaign rallying non-state actors – including companies, cities, regions, financial and educational institutions – to take rigorous and immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030 and deliver a healthier, fairer zero carbon world in time.

Companies are essential to lead the race to net zero and need to start to act now to define ambitious short-term goals to reduce GHG emissions for 2030 and keep long-term-goals alive.

Where should I start?

Browse TMI’s solutions and read the starter kit to kickstart your business transformation.

Set up a Green or Carbon Footprint Team.

Start calculating your carbon footprint.

Big or small, every action counts!

Start your carbon footprint management journey and calculate your GHG emissions. It is the starting point from which your organization can turn ambitions into actions for a better low-carbon future.

See here how to start this journey.

Written by
Diane Pouget
Built environment | Public-private partnerships | ESG | Carbon footprint strategy | Climate Change
Lucie Grosso
Sustainability and Impact Leader | Optimisation and business transformation
Rishab Sharma
Aspiring Environmentalist | Undergraduate - Air Transport Management Student at SIT