Climate crash course: What does “net zero” really mean?

GLF Live with Kate Dooley

This episode is now available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Amazon Music.

At this point, it’s likely safe to assume most people who have found their way to this webpage are familiar with the term “net zero.” And it’s probably also a safe bet that the definition of net zero that comes to their minds is, loosely, a state in which greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere are balanced out by those removed.

But is it that simple? Is it fair, or true, to summarize such a complex state of equilibrium so succinctly? How should emissions reductions and emissions offsetting be used together in this context? What about terms like “absolute zero” or “net zero aligned” – where do they fit in? When was the last time humans had a net-zero relationship with the atmosphere, and how can we have that again?

In the last episode of our GLF Live mini-series of “climate crash courses” – 15-minute lessons on foundational terms and topics we might have overlooked in our learnings – Kate Dooley, a renowned expert on climate mitigation and land-use, explained this term for us, addressing if and how its real meaning can be achieved.

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Kate Dooley is an interdisciplinary scholar with expertise in climate mitigation and land-use policy. She received her PhD from the University of Melbourne where she is currently a lecturer in climate change politics. Kate has policy expertise on forest carbon accounting and forest governance, and has almost two decades experience in advising government and non-governmental organizations on the intersection of forest governance and climate policy. She has published extensively, including on forest carbon accounting rules; illegal logging and forest governance; human rights and equity; and the role of science in shaping climate mitigation pathways.

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