We hear “net zero” in the news all the time. Countries and even companies around the world are making promises to join in the “race to zero”— but what does that really mean?
First, we need to start with the basic science: the way carbon moves around the earth is known as the carbon cycle. It consists of sources which emit carbon and carbon “sinks”—anything which absorbs more carbon than it releases (e.g., plants, the ocean and soil).
The system has always naturally balanced itself out—but human intervention is throwing a wrench in the cycle.
Our activity has created an imbalance between the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) released into the atmosphere and the amount of carbon that can be absorbed by our natural sinks.
This has resulted in a net accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere, which is warming our planet and driving anthropogenic climate change.