Net Zero: A short history

Net zero has come a long way quickly, but it's a journey that's just beginning.

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By John Lang


The concept of net zero has come a long way in a very short time - it has gone from science to policy to mainstream in less than a decade. But it's the three decades ahead, particularly the first, that will determine whether the new window through which decarbonisation is now viewed globally delivers what it promises to.

This graphic, by ECIU's John Lang, first featured in Net Zero Stocktake 2022, a report co-written with Oxford Net Zero, NewClimate Institute and the Data-Driven EnviroLab that scrutinised the net zero commitments across countries, sub-national governments and major listed companies.

As the report makes clear, the future of net zero depends on governments, local authorities, companies, investors and civil society working together to enhance the credibility of net zero targets. More specifically, this means turning pledges into plans, showcasing successes, highlighting empty promises and ensuring that racing to zero means a race to integrity and implementation, not just intention.