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The problem with net-zero corporate goals

OOnly a few companies have set net zero goals, and even fewer expect to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether. For the majority, the plan is to eliminate their carbon footprint by 2050 through offsets – reducing or removing emissions elsewhere to compensate. Offsets, however, are controversial, in part because they are difficult to obtain properly.

Technological options, like carbon capture, fall far short of the scale needed, leaving nature-based solutions, like growing new forests, as the current best choice. But nature is able to absorb a limited amount of carbon from the atmosphere each year, and the more climate goals companies set, the more likely there won’t be enough land to meet the business demand. Here’s a look at the math behind the pledges.

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1. Only 6.5% of companies currently plan to achieve net zero emissions, most by 2050.

2. Together they emit 4 gigatonnes (gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, two-thirds of which can be avoided through clean energy and other efforts.

3. This leaves up to 1.3 gt of CO2e per year that companies plan to balance using offsets.

4. Currently, the most feasible offsets are nature-based (such as reforestation), which can at most sequester around 2.5 gt CO2 per year.

5. These companies’ plans call for about 1.4 million square miles, or about half of all the land available for offsets.

6. As more companies set net zero goals, by 2050 the demand for offsets will grow to require 3.9 million square miles. earthen.

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