Carbon neutrality and net zero emissions are currently used as interchangeable terms defined as where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced as much as is reasonably possible given financial and operational considerations, and the remaining GHGs are “neutralized” by purchasing emission reductions (often formalized as marketable and tradable carbon offsets).
The Five General Steps to Carbon Neutrality
Emission reductions are created through the development of emission reduction projects. For example, in Saskatchewan’s primarily fossil-fuelled electricity grid, developing a wind farm project to generate grid electricity will overall reduce the emissions from the province’s electricity sector. An important stipulation is that these projects would not have been undertaken without the carbon offset system in place.
High profile organizations including Cenovus Energy, Maple Leaf Foods, and Microsoft, have all made commitments to become carbon neutral in the short term. The Government of Canada has set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The scope of carbon neutrality can be extensive and include direct emissions (such as vehicle exhaust or on-site building heating sources) and indirect emissions (such as electricity generation sources). The indirect scope can be extended further to upstream and downstream emission sources – as an example, more and more organizations are considering the inclusion of ‘embodied carbon’ in carbon neutrality, in particular for built infrastructure. Embodied carbon refers to the total GHGs caused by the extraction, manufacture and supply of construction products and materials, as well as the construction, maintenance, and end of life disposal processes.