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What does CO2 neutrality actually mean?


There are many levers in the battle against global warming. One of these starts with the most widespread greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide (CO2). But what are the ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And how can a company become CO2-neutral? Here are the options.

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The increase in global warming and its negative consequences for people and the environment are altering the basis of life for all living beings. The amount of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere is a decisive factor in this. Carbon dioxide makes up the largest proportion of these gases. In the pre-industrial era there was a rough equilibrium between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and so-called sinks, i.e. places where greenhouse gases are stored: soils, forests, moors and oceans absorb more carbon dioxide than they release. Increasing industrialisation, urbanisation and rising global population have resulted in this equilibrium no longer being maintained. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. Data from the European Union suggests that natural sinks bind between 9.5 and 11 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. Yet in 2019 the annual global CO2 emissions were 38.0 gigatons.

Reducing emissions

The aim of corporate climate efforts is to curb self-generated and upstream or downstream emissions along the value chain and product cycle. The most direct way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce the amount emitted or to prevent it from occurring in the first place. This is the most sustainable, but also the most expensive way. Because it requires the questioning and modification of a company’s products, production methods and materials, distribution channels and energy consumption. Companies establish a CO2 footprint, also known as a carbon footprint, to measure and control their own emissions. This includes three categories of emissions:

Category 1 includes all direct emissions of the company caused by production and operationthe emissions resulting from the direct combustion of fossil energy sources at the production site - for example heat. Category 2 combines emissions caused by the combustion of fossil fuels at the company's energy suppliers, for example, during the generation of electricity or district heating. includes indirect emissions, for example, the combustion of fossil fuels during the generation of electricity, heat, cooling and steam used by the company. Category 3 comprises of the indirect emissions that arise in a company’s upstream and downstream value chain – at suppliers’ and customers’ premises, for example.

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Another method for reducing your carbon footprint is to offset the emissions directly or indirectly caused by the company via a CO2 reduction outside your own area of responsibility. Companies can buy CO2 certificates to do this. They pay money in relation to their emissions to an organisation that uses it to fund projects that bind CO2, through reforestation for example. The overall balance between CO2 emissions and CO2 reductions thus means that no additional carbon dioxide is fed into the atmosphere. On a large scale, however, CO2 neutrality through offsetting is considered very critical and no longer acceptable. It should only be used for residual emissions. 

The next step in CO2 neutrality

CO2 neutrality is said to exist either when emissions are not released at all or when the emissions caused and the offsetting are balanced elsewhere. CO2 neutrality is an important milestone on the path to an environmentally sustainable economy.

Albeit we have to go one step further if we want to continue to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration: towards a negative CO2 balance. This ultimately requires a long-term reduction in consumption and a conversion to alternative, low-emission or emission-free energy sources as the decisive solution. It would enable a further increase in global warming to be slowed down or prevented.

Click here for the CR Report 2020.

CO2 neutrality is an important milestone on the path to an environmentally sustainable economy.

Text   Felix Enzian
Photos   GettyImages/fhm, GettyImages/Thomas Winz, GettyImages/Andriy Onufriyenko

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