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Designing and Communicating Net-Zero Targets

The latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) suggests that to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, the world will need to reach net-zero GHG emissions early in the second half of the next century. At the global level, achieving net-zero emissions means balancing anthropogenic (human-induced) emissions and removals of GHGs in a given period. In practice, achieving net-zero emissions means reducing anthropogenic emissions – like those from fossil-fueled emissions – as close to zero as possible while ramping up carbon removal to balance out any remaining emissions. These solutions could include restoring forests or direct air capture and storage technology.

As of July 2020, 19 countries and the European Union have adopted net-zero targets, and more than 100 others are considering doing so. This paper is a resource for countries that are designing and communicating net-zero targets. It summarizes how countries have designed net-zero targets to date and discusses the pros and cons of different design choices. It recommends options for designing net-zero targets and communicating with domestic and international constituencies in accordance with the most recent climate science and pathways to limit average global temperature rise to below 2°C (3.6°F)—and, ideally, 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Key Findings

Executive Summary


  • To limit warming to well below 1.5°C (2.7°F), global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be slashed in half during the next decade and reach net zero early in the second half of the century.
  • Given this need, several countries have adopted netzero emissions targets, and many more have net-zero
  • targets under consideration.
  • Achieving net-zero targets is both a massive challenge—as countries will need to transform their economies—and an opportunity to advance development and sustainable economic growth while
  • avoiding the worst climate change impacts.
  • This paper aims to support countries in designing and communicating their net-zero targets to ensure they fully contribute to the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s goals.
  • Net-zero targets must also inform the design of nearand midterm targets and policies, including nationally determined contributions (NDCs), development plans, policies, investments, and long-term low-emissions development strategies to support just transitions.

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