Only a relative few companies have set net-zero targets, and even fewer expect to fully stop emitting greenhouse gases. For the majority, the plan is to eliminate their carbon footprint by 2050 through offsets—a reduction or removal of emissions elsewhere to compensate. Offsets, however, are controversial, in part because they’re difficult to get right.
Tech options, like carbon capture, are of nowhere near the scale needed, leaving nature-based solutions, like growing new forests, as the current best choice. But nature is able to absorb only so much carbon from the atmosphere each year, and as more companies set climate goals, the more likely it is that there won’t be enough land to meet corporate demand. Here’s a look at the math behind the pledges.
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1. Only 6.5% of companies currently have plans to reach net-zero emissions, most by 2050.
2. Together, they emit 4 gigatons (gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, two-thirds of which can be avoided by clean energy and other efforts.
3. That leaves up to 1.3 gt of CO2e per year that companies plan to balance out using offsets.
4. Currently the most feasible offsets are nature-based (such as reforestation), which at most can trap about 2.5 gt of CO2 annually.
5. These companies’ plans require about 1.4 million sq. mi.—about half of all land available for offsets.
6. As more companies set net-zero targets, by 2050 demand for offsets will grow to require 3.9 million sq. mi. of land.