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Some lessons from businesses seeking to slash greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero published in Nature this week. The whole article is interesting, and a big problem is the relatively tiny supply of options to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it long-term.

While these lessons apply to businesses, they also substantially apply to the Isle of Man. Under the way that the current calculations are applied, the Isle of Man has no accountability for emissions that it causes, but are produced elsewhere (eg, electricity to produce a widget in China which is use in Isle of Man).

Three key lessons from the article:

Meaning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s definition of net zero is simple enough at a global scale: when “anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals”. But it is too broad to tell individual companies how they can reach net zero5.

Measurement. Corporations need more-accurate, automated and consistent ways of measuring and accounting for carbon. The non-profit organization Greenhouse Gas Protocol provides guidelines for assessing emissions from internal operations, such as vehicle use and manufacturing, and from purchases of energy sourced off-site. Estimating emissions from supply and value chains is more difficult7. It requires calculations from all suppliers and users of a company’s products and services. Three-quarters of Microsoft’s emissions come from these, including building materials, business travel, product life cycles and the electricity that customers consume when using Microsoft’s products. The company has been using expenditure data and industry-average emissions for reporting purposes. But these have large uncertainties and are of limited use in reducing emissions in practice. They do not factor in the impacts of making different choices in the value chain for greenhouse-gas emissions.

Markets. Companies need better economic incentives to promote the most effective forms of CO2 removal. Nature-based removal and storage, and technology-enabled removal and geosphere-based storage are not equivalent commodities and should not be valued as such.

Today’s pricing on a per-tonne basis encourages companies to buy the lowest-quality carbon offsets. It does not monetize the duration of carbon storage, the risk of premature release, or the social equity or environmental benefits of removal. At current prices, credits for avoided emissions are the cheapest (as low as $3 per tCO2). Nature-based carbon-removal costs more ($5–50 per tCO2), although it is much less expensive than geo-based removal.

Microsoft’s million-tonne CO2-removal purchase — lessons for net zero