Grab Your Passport: Let’s Take a Global Tour of Carbon Negativity!


Carbon negativity: a recap

You might have heard of the term “carbon neutrality,” which refers to having net-zero carbon emissions. Put in simpler terms: carbon neutral means you emit as much carbon into the atmosphere as you remove from the atmosphere.

Carbon negativity, however, goes a step further, referring to emitting less carbon into the atmosphere than you remove from the atmosphere. It’s not just neutral for the environment; it’s better for the environment.

Okay, so what does it mean to emit carbon? Well, activities such as burning fossil fuels (by driving cars or using fossil fuels to power factories, for example) emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, hence the term.

Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas, but it is a significant one. In 2019, for instance, it accounted for about 80 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities.

How is it possible to achieve carbon negativity, then? Often, carbon neutrality and negativity make use of strategies such as tree planting, carbon capture technologies, and creative waste management.

It’s important to note that the definitions, strategies, and calculations at play are nuanced and complex. Definitions of “negative emissions” can vary (such as by counting direct or indirect emissions) and some strategies, such as carbon capture technologies used by the oil and gas industry, can be controversial.

Carbon removal and storage techniques can’t be alternatives to reducing emissions in the first place! Indeed, carbon neutrality and negativity are just two tools in the climate activism toolkit

What is “carbon offsetting?”

Offsets are one way to help achieve carbon neutrality or negativity. It’s a huge subject, but simply put, carbon offsetting refers to purchasing credits for carbon emissions reductions. In other words, it helps to pay for activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere as compensation for emitting carbon into the atmosphere elsewhere.

A global tour

Now that we’re familiar with the term, let’s turn our attention to the wider world and look at some examples of carbon negativity around the globe.

Here in Canada, the federal government has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 through the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which was introduced in Parliament in November of 2020. We’re not alone: more than 120 countries have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 (including all other G7 nations).

The year 2050 is, admittedly, quite a long way into the future. And carbon negativity? That’s an even bigger challenge!

Companies

Several notable companies have recently pledged to go carbon negative, including US-based Microsoft and IKEA (whose headquarters are currently in the Netherlands). Both are aiming for 2030.

Schools

Schools around the world are also embracing carbon negativity. For example, Finland’s LUT University is planning to be carbon negative as soon as 2024. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia’s AUT (Australian National University) has announced that it will achieve carbon negativity before 2050.

Countries

Amazingly, several entire countries are already carbon negative. Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas, famous for becoming the first carbon-negative country. It was able to go carbon negative, in large part, thanks to its vast woodland forests and hydropower. Perhaps even more fascinating is its commitment to “Gross National Happiness” rather than their Gross Domestic Product.

Suriname is another example of a carbon-negative country. This small country in South America is 93 percent covered in forest, which helps it achieve carbon negativity.

What can we do as individuals?

We’re home now from our global tour. Once your jetlag has subsided, it’s time to apply these concepts to our daily lives! Here are some tips to get started.

At work and/or school

  • Join or form a “green team” that helps make eco-friendly choices.
  • Develop a compost program for food scraps.
  • Develop a recycling program (including for electronics).
  • For offices, push for remote work options.
  • Plant veggie or pollinator-friendly gardens.
  • Partner with, and volunteer for, local environmental groups.

At home

  • Talk about it with others (maybe share this article with friends and family members!).
  • Going on a trip? Consider purchasing carbon offsets.
  • If you’re purchasing a new vehicle, consider a fuel-efficient, hybrid, or electric version.
  • Walk, cycle, or take transit rather than driving, when possible.
  • Eat lower on the food chain more often.
  • Volunteer with local environmental groups.
  • Vote for leaders committed to environmental action.

By applying carbon negativity to the world around us, we work to evaluate (and continually re-evaluate) how we can move toward global sustainability, together.

“Where does our ‘carbon tax’ go?”

Carbon pricing exists across Canada in various forms, as a way to put a price on carbon pollution. In BC, for example, the carbon tax applies to the purchase and use of fossil fuels and is estimated to cover 70 percent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. The tax is meant to help encourage people to make more eco-friendly choices, such as taking public transportation.

Revenues remain in the jurisdiction in which they were collected. For example, proceeds can go toward household rebates, small business tax cuts, or reinvestments back into the economy (such as to help encourage efforts like green infrastructure and renewable energy).

This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue of alive with the title Carbon Negativity Around the World.



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