Let's Go Climate Neutral Now!

30/09/2015 15:10 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 10:12 BST

If I were a magician I would, like a character in a JK Rowling novel, wave a wand and cut everyone's emissions to zero--or near zero as possible--overnight.

But I am not: which is why I am working tirelessly with countries, cities and companies on a new universal climate agreement to be inked in Paris this December.

It is also why during this year's Climate Week in New York I helped to launch Climate Neutral Now--a new initiative that can play its part to help us all get onto a path towards a low, carbon-free, future today.

At the Climate Neutral Now launch

Science tells us that in order to keep global warming under a 2 degrees C temperature rise this century, emissions from our homes, factories, power systems and transportation networks need to peak in the next ten years and be massively reduced thereafter.

In the second half of the century atmospheric pollution needs to be so low it can be readily absorbed by healthy forests, soils and other natural ecosystems--technologies like cost-effective carbon capture and storage may also have a role.

The aim and the destination is termed climate neutrality by some, net zero or zero net by others--it is nothing short of restoring the healthy ecological balance of planet Earth.

Many would like to get there faster, but there is a reality today that makes this impossible.

Hybrid Cars, Public Transport and Biofuels

Few if any citizens, countries, cities and companies have total control over their greenhouse gases in 2015 because of the carbon intensity of our interconnected economy.

I may drive a hybrid car--and walk or use public transport as much as I can--but my auto still uses some fossil fuels as do the buses and subways I ride.

When I flew to New York for Climate Week last week, the plane was powered by kerosene because a global aviation fleet flying on biofuels is still some way off.

I try to source locally-produced food and manage my heating and lighting in the most efficient way--but we are all dependent to a greater or lesser extent on imported produce linked with deforestation and vast transportation networks.

On any given day, somewhere around 50% of the electricity generated in Germany where I currently live can come from solar and wind---but not all, not yet.

The fact is that despite our best efforts, carbon is systemically embedded in our lives because of the way our economies have evolved since the Industrial Revolution.

This is where Climate Neutral Now can assist. We will eventually be able to easily enjoy a carbon neutral life because our global economy, covering all products and services, will have reduced its carbon intensity to the point where remaining emissions are naturally absorbed. But in the meantime if we want to be carbon neutral, we have to make a concerted effort to measure, reduce and offset.

Measure, Reduce and Offset

First everyone needs to measure their carbon footprint using one of the many established calculators available on line.

Secondly, everybody including citizens, companies, cities and institutions like schools or universities or community centers should make every effort to find ways to reduce their emissions as much as they can--and put in place plans and goals to go even further.


Climate Neutral Now uses offsets to deal with whatever emissions are left--at least in the short to medium term.

In the past, offsetting emissions by buying credits in climate-friendly projects has been only really open to governments and investors---some businesses like airlines have made offsets available to passengers.

But the new initiative takes the voluntary practice to a new, and more simplified level that can play its part in fostering climate-friendly habits and help us speed the path to climate neutrality.

Climate Neutral Now features a new online portal which makes it easy for anyone to buy UN verified offsets as well as contacts for businesses and organizations to get advice on how to go climate neutral.

The UN and its many organizations, agencies and funds is using this approach to go climate neutral--indeed some, like UNFCCC and the UN Environment Programme already are and others are progressing well.

The Climate Neutral Now initiative has been joined by companies including Microsoft, Marks & Spencer and the adidas Group-- all of whom have pledged to measure, reduce and then offset.

The offsetting is done through a UN scheme that stimulates both sustainable development and emission reductions by channeling funding to emission reduction and avoidance projects in the developing world.

These projects enable countries to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy and plant forests to absorb greenhouse gases.

COP 21 and Beyond

Climate Neutral Now is not an answer in itself--the Paris agreement and the actions taken by governments now and over the next 50 years need to catalyze real, deep and decisive emissions reductions via ever cleaner and greener energy technologies, smarter grids, radically new levels of efficiency and better management of forests and nature-based systems.

If governments and wider society are serious about staying below a 2 degree C temperature rise by the end of the 21st century, offsets will become an increasingly shrinking need.


Indeed by mid-century their use will become irrelevant or exceptional as the transition to a truly climate neutral world achieves maturity.

There are those who, for ideological or other reasons, find offsetting unpalatable: others may fear they might provide companies and countries with an escape route from real and meaningful climate action.

I understand these views, but respectfully disagree. In order to avoid dangerous climate change and accelerate the transformation to a healthier and more prosperous world we need to deploy all level of human ingenuity and every available option at our disposal now.

I am working tirelessly to support the development of an ambitious Paris agreement that encapsulates clear, time-bound steps, unlocks financial flows into sustainability and a long term vision of where the world needs to be in the second half of the century.

I am also working tirelessly to do my bit as a citizen today--which is why I have joined Climate Neutral Now, reducing my personal footprint and then also offsetting more than my foreseeable lifetime emissions. I hope many more will join us to make this initiative part of the bigger success story that will define the year 2015 and echo positively down the generations.