Taking the path to achieve a net zero emissions future

Taking the path to achieve a net zero emissions future
06 February 2020

Taking the path to achieve a net zero emissions future 

Now more than ever, the planet is facing unprecedented changes to its climate. The public voice can be heard in cities around the world calling for urgent action on the Climate Emergency, but what does this mean for Governments, policy makers, companies and, ultimately, all of us?

UK Government leads the way

Well, the science and growing physical evidence from around the world has shown us that urgent action is now required to tackle the causes of climate change and avoid the worst of its potential impacts. It is widely accepted that increases in global temperatures should be limited to no more than 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, and that achieving this will require a significant change from our current emissions trajectory.

The UK Government has led the way in committing to this challenge and has amended the Climate Change Act such that the UK now has a target of net zero emissions by 2050. This means that across all our activities any greenhouse gas emissions arising will need to be balanced by the equivalent level of removal of emissions from the atmosphere. 

Achieving this requires action on many fronts:

  1. Maximising the reduction of emissions at source, in industry, commerce, transportation, utilities, agriculture and the homes of over 60 million people.
  2. Reducing consumption of energy, materials and other resources (including water) and increasing the circularity of our economy.
  3. Delivering projects that enable any unavoidable emissions arising to be ‘offset’ in a way that supports a global reduction in emissions.

A complicated path to net zero

Over the past few years the greenhouse gas emissions intensity across the UK has significantly reduced. The level of emissions per unit of economic output fell approximately 4% between 2016 and 2017, the continuation of a long trend. In fact, during this timeframe, around 85% of industries reduced their greenhouse gas emissions intensity, with the greatest reduction in the energy supply sector (including electricity and gas) falling 7%. 

Despite this, there are still net positive emissions of around 103,000 kilotons of carbon from a wide variety of sources, of which the energy supply sector is only a part. Clearly, the path to having net zero emissions is a complicated one, relying on:

  • Long-term policy drivers and support measures. 
  • Widespread roll out of new technology and infrastructure, some of which hasn’t been developed yet.
  • Co-operation within and across economic sectors.
  • Individuals taking personal responsibility for their own emissions.

If the UK is going to take a holistic approach to achieving net zero, this will undoubtably require an increased level of intervention and forward thinking at all levels. However, many businesses are unaware of the quickest and most efficient path to successfully reducing their emissions

What we learnt from our first net zero webinar

On January 19th, 2020, we held our first of three Webinars on net zero, specifically highlighting the importance of a business strategy for achieving net zero emissions. One of the areas considered by our technical experts was the ‘effective response’ by international bodies, national governments, businesses, industry and individuals at tackling climate change; the consensus being that businesses themselves, thought they were best placed to help tackle climate change. 

It does however appear few measures are currently being taken by many businesses to ensure that they are playing their role in achieving net zero, despite new government regulation. The following results were captured during the webinar:

“SECR? What’s that?”

Interestingly, of approximately 180 businesses that were surveyed, around half were unaware of the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) regulation.

This is concerning given that SECR is a requirement for many large organisations under new government regulations; it aligns with much of the UK journey to net zero, where affected businesses are required to assess their energy use and associated emissions, and to consider energy saving measures. 

If you’re not clear on what SECR is, we’ve created this brief guide to SECR that gives you key points you need to know.

Our webinar also highlighted that although many businesses are calculating their carbon footprint on an annual basis, only a third had considered a net zero target going forward.  

The importance of having a net zero strategy 

But why should businesses be considering a net zero strategy and what are the actual benefits?

Achieving net zero is becoming increasingly important to organisations for both reputational and environmental reasons, plus it makes sense to act now in order to keep a step ahead of government policy measures and increasing stakeholder pressure.

Once a net zero target has been agreed, a strategy will be required to set out the route for achieving the target, setting out the priority areas, types of measure required, timings and challenges, to mention a few. It will be a powerful tool for communicating a plan of action and engaging with stakeholders, while helping them consider future changes required. 

It is important to note a net zero strategy is unlikely to be a simple task and rather, involves the whole business so will take time to develop. In our experience supporting organisations we’ve found this typically takes anywhere from two months to two years following a tried and tested set of steps:

Join our webinar series to find out more about achieving net zero:

Join the second of our three webinars on 19 March, when our energy and carbon management experts will show you how you can develop a net zero target and the role offsets can play. 
We will look at:

  • what makes an effective net zero target: a breakdown of the key components
  • what could your emissions could look like in future, both with proactive effort and without
  • deciding your net zero target
  • offsetting - markets, standards, when to implement, costs and how to avoid greenwash

Find out more here:


Need further support? Ricardo can help

At Ricardo we are supporting a net zero future in many ways. Helping clients across the private and public sectors to establish their own net zero strategies, roadmaps and technological appraisals. These projects are establishing the framework within which organisations will operate to deliver their own net zero future. 
But our impact on achieving the net zero target is much deeper. In fact, many of the projects we deliver for customers around the world are contributing to making net zero possible. For example:

  • Smart grid infrastructure: reducing losses, managing loads, enabling a decentralised low carbon power supply market to operate.
  • Fleet electrification and alternative fuels.
  • Anaerobic digestion and biomass. 
  • Delivering renewable energy solutions.
  • Resource efficiency projects, lifecycle assessment and circularity studies – optimising closed and open loop systems to minimise emissions (and other environmental impacts), including in the agriculture sector.
  • Establishing mechanisms and policies for international governments that enable low-carbon economic growth and effective carbon markets.
  • Embedding climate change into EIA at a meaningful level that drives change.

Our experience

We have a track record of helping companies with reporting, developing and implementing carbon reduction strategies and responding to environmental legislation. We’ll work with you to develop a strategy that meets your specific needs and ambitions, identify actions to take, and support you through to delivery.
If your company or sector is looking at taking the next steps to respond to net zero (in the next 3-6 months) we can provide:

  • A team of highly experienced carbon foot printing and emissions experts
  • A dedicated support team of carbon management consultants and analysts who can provide auditing, data measurement, carbon modelling and verification services in support of net zero
  • Insight into the key gaps between currently planned carbon reduction actions, and a net zero target, using our own in-house net zero emissions gap analysis tool
  • A cohesive strategy to future-proof your company, by taking action proactively before further legislation changes come into effect

Ricardo is an international consultancy that works at the forefront of carbon foot printing, net zero and assurance all over the world. We have been named as one of the Financial Times leading management consultancies on sustainability for the last two years running. 

We determine the UK Government Conversion Factors for Company Reporting (Defra/BEIS factors) on an annual basis, and work on the development of new reporting methodologies - for example, members of our team were involved in the development of the new GHG Protocol Scope 2 reporting guidance. 

No matter what your role will be in delivering a carbon net zero future, we can help you on that journey. Call us to find out more and speak to one of our sustainable business and carbon management experts: 01235 75 3000 / [email protected]