HomeDocument databaseCarbon Neutrality: Yes, but How?

Carbon Neutrality: Yes, but How?

  • Published on 20 March 2019
  • CO2 and GHG
  • Energy transition

Carbon Neutrality: Yes, but How?

Carbon neutrality by 2050 is the new, ambitious, objective set by the French Government, instead of the objective that had previously been set, a division by a factor 4 of our CO2 emissions.

Carbon neutrality is achieved by a country when the amount of CO2 absorbed in this country, either naturally or via human action, entirely compensates the emissions of that country. In its 5th report in 2013-2014, the IPCC anticipated that the global mean surface temperature increase in 2100 could be limited to 2°C provided carbon neutrality at the global scale could be reached before the end of the 21st century. The IPCC SR15 special report published in autumn 2018 stipulates that carbon neutrality will have to be achieved by 2050 if the global temperature increase is to be limited to 1.5 °C.

France is not the first country to pledge to carbon neutrality: after Bouthan which claims to have already reached carbon neutrality, Norway is pledging to reach it in 2030, Iceland in 2040, Sweden in 2045, and New Zealand in 2050. Besides countries, large cities such as Copenhagen, Reykjavik, Montreal and Paris are pledging to reach this neutrality.

As discussed by Carbon 4[1], (http://www.carbone4.com/facteur4-neutralite-carbone/), achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is a much more ambitious objective than a reduction of the emissions by a factor 4: the natural carbon sinks in France will, at best, ensure the absorption of a small fraction of what will be emitted.  The technologies for the capture and storage of the emitted CO2 are far from being operational at the needed scale; and the prospects for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere are even worse. In the event that biomass is used to produce energy, there will be that much biomass which will not be used to capture atmospheric carbon. The CO2 capture techniques at the emission site, and its storage, are very energy intensive and have only been implemented worldwide on installations whose size is several orders of magnitude smaller than that necessary. It will thus be mandatory to reduce CO2 emissions drastically, which means a total phase-out of fossil carbon use (coal, oil and its derivatives, and natural gas). This also implies resorting massively to carbon-free electric power.

So, what should we make of this statement that carbon neutrality will be attained by France in 2050? The means and the pathway to achieve this being lacking, is it, as with Germany regarding the reduction of its emissions, just an announcement to buy the populations' patience, faced as it is with cold feet actions aimed at limiting global warming? More is promised but it is promised for a distant future, a future that some of us and part of those who make this announcement, will not witness.

"Save the Climate" is obviously in favor of reducing our emissions to the extent that would lead France to carbon neutrality on its territory by 2050, in the hope that the other countries will espouse the same objective. Yet, the means must be identified. The carbon neutrality objective by 2050 is well and good but it is now that vigorous action must be undertaken if we want to give ourselves a chance to attain this objective.


[1]     Created in 2007 by energy and climate experts Jean-Marc Jancovici and Alain Grandjean, Carbone 4 is the leading consulting firm specialized in low carbon strategy and adaptation to climate change.