Understanding Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goals and Resources | Henderson Engineers

Understanding Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goals and Resources

The world is experiencing the impacts of climate change more than ever with historic droughts and wildfires, storms and flooding, and record heatwaves. The repercussions of climate change are far reaching and put many species and habitats at risk. Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goals are essential to mitigating climate change and its impacts.

Net-zero emissions means that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere is balanced by the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere. Benefits of achieving net zero include:

  • Avoiding premature deaths.
  • Reducing dependency on fossil fuels thus making energy more secure.
  • Improving economic growth.
  • Mitigating climate change, including slowing the impact of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and disruptions to food and water supplies.
  • Protecting ecosystems, which will preserve natural resources for future generations.
  • Enhancing transportation, including improved public transportation, reduced traffic congestion, and improved mobility.

There is a growing global movement to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This movement includes governments, businesses, and individuals from all over the world. Some of the key global movements and goals related to net-zero emissions include:

  • Paris Agreement: The Paris Agreement is a landmark international agreement that aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius while aggressively striving to limit the increase even more to 1.5 degrees.
  • Renewable Energy Transition: The renewable energy transition is a shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
  • Shift to Electric Vehicles: The shift to electric vehicles is a move to push the adoption of electric vehicles to reduce emissions form the transportation sector, the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.
  • Green New Deal: The Green New Deal is a movement to simultaneously address climate change and economize equality through green jobs and infrastructures.
  • Youth Activism: Groups like “Fridays for Future” are mobilizing millions of young people to demand action on climate change from governments and corporations.
  • Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi): The SBTi is a collaboration between the CDP (previously known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). More than 1,000 organizations have signed on to the initiative since 2015 to set a science-based climate target.

As more organizations commit and more stringent guidelines are set to meet these goals, governments around the world have begun setting deadlines. Under President Joe Biden, the United States has set a goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030, to achieve 100% carbon pollution-free electricity (clean power) by 2035, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Important Terms

When setting net-zero goals and implementing sustainable and regenerative practices in general, there are a variety of important terms to understand:

  • Decarbonization: Reduction or elimination of carbon dioxide emissions from a process such as manufacturing or the production of energy.
  • Embodied Carbons: Greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.
  • Environmental Product Declaration (EPD): A document which transparently communicates the environmental performance or impact of any product or material over its lifetime.
  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): Measure of how much energy the emissions of one ton of a gas will absorb over a given period, relative to the emissions of one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time. The length of time generally used for GWPs is a century.
  • Greenhouse Gas (GHG): Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
  • Carbon Neutral: Having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks. Storing carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration.

Achieving the Goals

As noted in The Long-Term Strategy of the United States for Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050, limiting greenhouse gas emissions requires four pillars including federal leadership, non-federal leadership, innovation, and all-of-society action. Efforts from federal leadership may include investments and incentives that support clean technologies and policies for all sectors. The U.S. Federal system shares power with governments at subnational levels (non-federal leadership). Due to this, climate action is shared to improve the U.S. emissions trajectory to complement national policies and can provide a broader base for leaving and accelerating action.

New technologies will be critical to providing the foundations to maximize the economic benefits of decarbonization goals. Additionally, it will take action by society as a whole through innovation, creativity, and diversity to support the transition to reach sustainability goals.

Considerations for Decarbonization

There are a number of considerations for decarbonization in commercial projects. By considering these factors, you can help to decarbonize your commercial projects and reduce your carbon footprint. This will benefit both the environment and your bottom line.

  • Incorporate electrification designs: When designing new commercial buildings or renovating existing ones, consider incorporating electrification designs. This includes using heat pumps for heating and cooling, electric vehicle charging stations, and electric appliances.
  • Water heating: Heat pump water heaters are a more efficient and sustainable option for water heating than traditional gas water heaters, but may not be suitable in all applications. Consider the specific needs of your project to determine if a heat pump water heater is a good option.
  • Kitchens: The Better Buildings Initiative, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, provides a number of low-carbon strategies for commercial kitchen equipment. These strategies can help to reduce energy consumption and emissions in commercial kitchens.
  • Construction: Prefabricating building components can help to reduce carbon emissions associated with construction. Prefabricated components are typically built in a controlled environment, which allows for more efficient use of materials and energy.
  • Power supplied by clean energy sites: Consider powering your commercial building with clean energy from solar or wind farms. This can help to reduce your carbon footprint and support the transition to a clean energy economy.

Incentives for Decarbonization

There are a variety of incentives available to support decarbonization efforts. These incentives can come from the government, businesses, and other organizations. One of the most comprehensive sources of information on renewable and energy efficiency incentives is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). DSIRE allows users to search for incentives by type, state, technology, implementing sector, and eligible sector.

Tax credits are also available for efforts which make homes more efficient with a “Clean Energy Tax Credits for Consumers.” The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides opportunities for consumers to save money when purchasing both new and used vehicles electric, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles..

Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is essential to mitigating climate change and its impacts. It will require a concerted effort from all sectors of society. By acting now, we can create a cleaner and more sustainable future for all.

Henderson Knows Sustainability

Our pledge is to lead regenerative and innovative design for a brighter, cleaner future. Henderson’s sustainability mission is to establish a regenerative mindset within our operations and design practice to realize solutions that restore, renew, and replenish sources of energy and materials while benefiting employees, clients, communities, and global ecological systems. Click here to learn more about our sustainable and regenerative design practices.

Written By

Mechanical Technical Manager


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