A person carrying a red sun brolly walks through a solar panel farm in France.

The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it

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A host of countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, promising to reach "net zero" in the coming years. The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing.

What is net zero and why is it important?

Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. If we continue to pump out the emissions that cause climate change, however, temperatures will continue to rise well beyond 1.5, to levels that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.

This is why a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or "net zero" emissions within the next few decades. It’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions starting right now.

Net zero by 2050 is the goal. But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net-zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the mobilization of climate financing for developing countries.

Clean energy, like wind power, is a key element in reaching net zero emissions.  is  wind farm in Montenegro.

So how can the world move toward net zero?

The good news is that the technology exists to reach net zero – and it is affordable.

A key element is powering economies with clean energy, replacing polluting coal - and gas and oil-fired power stations - with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar farms. This would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Plus, renewable energy is now not only cleaner, but often cheaper than fossil fuels.

A wholesale switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would also play a huge role in lowering emissions, with the added bonus of slashing air pollution in the world’s major cities. Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming cheaper and more efficient, and many countries, including those committed to net zero, have proposed plans to phase out the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars.

Other harmful emissions come from agriculture (livestock produce significant levels of methane, a greenhouse gas). These could be reduced drastically if we eat less meat and more plant-based foods. Here again, the signs are promising, such as the rising popularity of "plant-based meats" now being sold in major international fast-food chains.

An electric hybrid vehicle at a charging station in Germany.

What will happen to remaining emissions?

Reducing emissions is extremely important. To get to net zero, we also need to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here again, solutions are at hand. The most important have existed in nature for thousands of years.

 These "nature-based solutions" include forests, peatbogs, mangroves, soil and even underground seaweed forests , which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon. This is why huge efforts are being made around the world to save forests, plant trees, and rehabilitate peat and mangrove areas, as well as to improve farming techniques.

Who is responsible for getting to net zero?

We are all responsible as individuals, in terms of changing our habits and living in a way which is more sustainable, and which does less harm to the planet, making the kind of lifestyle changes which are highlighted in the UN’s Act Now campaign.

The private sector also needs to get in on the act and it is doing so through the UN Global Compact , which helps businesses to align with the UN’s environmental and societal goals.

It’s clear, however, that the main driving force for change will be made at a national government level, such as through legislation and regulations to reduce emissions.

Many governments are now moving in the right direction. By early 2021, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy, will have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality. 

The European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea, together with more than 110 other countries, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050; China says it will do so before 2060.

Some climate facts:

The earth is now 1.1°C warmer than it was at the start of the industrial revolution. We are not on track to meet agreed targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change , which stipulated keeping global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

2010-2019 is the warmest decade on record. On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, the global temperature is expected to increase by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century.

To avoid the worst of warming (maximum 1.5°C rise), the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2 per cent.

Climate action is not a budget buster or economy-wrecker: In fact, shifting to a green economy will add jobs. It could yield a direct economic gain of US$26 trillion through to 2030 compared with business-as-usual. And this is likely to be a conservative estimate.

Restoring natural habitats as pictured here in Cuba will help to slow down climate change

Are these commitments any more than just political statements?

These commitments are important signals of good intentions to reach the goal, but must be backed by rapid and ambitious action. One important step is to provide detailed plans for action in nationally determined contributions or NDCs. These define targets and actions to reduce emissions within the next 5 to 10 years. They are critical to guide the right investments and attract enough finance.

So far, 186 parties to the Paris Agreement have developed NDCs. This year, they are expected to submit new or updated plans demonstrating higher ambition and action. Click here to see the NDC registry .

Is net zero realistic?

Yes! Especially if every country, city, financial institution and company adopts realistic plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.

The COVID-19 pandemic recovery could be an important and positive turning point. When economic stimulus packages kick in, there will be a genuine opportunity to promote renewable energy investments, smart buildings, green and public transport, and a whole range of other interventions that will help to slow climate change.

But not all countries are in the same position to affect change, are they?

That’s absolutely true. Major emitters, such as the G20 countries, which generate 80 per cent of carbon emissions, in particular, need to significantly increase their present levels of ambition and action.

Also, keep in mind that far greater efforts are needed to build resilience in vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable people; they do the least to cause

climate change but bear the worst impacts. Resilience and adaptation action do not get the funding they need, however.

Even as they pursue net zero, developed countries must deliver on their commitment to provide $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.

National governments are the main drivers of change to reduce harmful emissions.

What is the UN doing promote climate action? 

It supports a broader process of global consensus on climate goals through the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development .

It is a leading source of scientific findings and research on climate change.

Within developing countries, it assists governments with the practicalities of establishing and monitoring NDCs, and taking measures to adapt to climate change, such as by reducing disaster risks and establishing climate-smart agriculture.

  • climate change

What does net-zero emissions mean and how can we get there?

Net zero emissions can be reached by switching to renewable energy.

When 'net-zero' is reached, this means that global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are in balance with emissions reductions. Image:  UNSPLASH/chris robert

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  • Reaching net zero emissions means removing an equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere as we release into it.
  • Despite the growth of sustainable technologies in recent years, carbon emissions continue to increase.
  • Current climate change commitments are not enough to keep the planet within 1.5℃ above pre-industrial times.
  • Urgent and coordinated global action is needed within the next decade to combat the growing climate change threat.

Calls for governments, companies and other organizations to bolster commitments to reach net zero emissions are becoming increasingly widespread as the effects of failing to limit climate change become more apparent.

But what does “net zero” actually mean? And importantly, what can be done to put the planet’s emissions on a safe course? Put simply, the term net zero applies to a situation where global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are in balance with emissions reductions . At net zero, carbon dioxide emissions are still generated, but an equal amount of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere as is released into it, resulting in zero increase in net emissions.

While sustainability efforts are increasing around the world, some sectors are harder to decarbonize than others. Heavy industries like iron and steelmaking, for example, and transport like aviation, shipping and road haulage are particularly hard to electrify. Abating emissions in these sectors requires new climate-tech solutions, such as carbon-capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies that prevent CO2 emissions from heavy industry reaching the atmosphere. Synthetic fuels can provide cleaner drop-in alternatives to fossil fuels like petrol or diesel for aeroplanes, ships and trucks. Many new emissions-busting technologies are still at the early stage of development, with the business case yet to be proven. Reaching net zero will require huge investment to scale up these solutions and bring costs down.

The growing climate crisis

Since the first COP talks held in 1995 , the energy transition has gained momentum. Power from wind and solar sources is fast becoming cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives, large parts of society and industry are being electrified, and technologies like carbon capture and synthetic fuels are helping to decarbonize hard-to-electrify sectors like steelmaking and aviation.

Energy transition innovations like these — and others still to be developed — are a crucial part of efforts to combat climate change. But despite advances, much of this technology is yet to be scaled up and global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

a chart showing that current climate commitments put the planet on course to reach between 2.7 – 3.1℃ by 2100

Annual global greenhouse gas emissions exceeded 50 gigatonnes , before the pandemic brought many countries to a virtual economic standstill. But as the world bounces back to business-as-usual, emissions are once again on the rise. Current climate policies put the planet on course to reach at least 2.7℃ above pre-industrial times by 2100 . This potentially cataclysmic rate of warming is approximately twice the 1.5℃ target set by the Paris Agreement.

What can we do to reach net zero emissions?

Climate science and scenarios outlined in reports by bodies like the IEA and the IPCC , all call for urgent action to address the climate crisis. The coming decade is crucial. Agreements reached at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, UK, are a vital chance to gain a global consensus on action to cut emissions and reach net zero. Commitment is needed from global leaders to at least halve global emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century. And a clear plan for how to deliver on these commitments is needed, along with interim emissions targets. As the climate crisis is a global threat, the world needs to find global solutions, by committing to support developing countries' efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

The First Movers Coalition , announced at COP26, is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

It’s a platform for companies to commit to buying zero-emission goods and services by 2030, to create demand for low-carbon technologies, make them cost-competitive and build the clean supply chains of the future.

Three main areas of action were outlined in a recent open letter for world leaders at COP26 , signed by more than 90 CEOs of multinational companies: 1. The switch from fossil fuels to clean energy and clean energy products needs to accelerate in order to achieve net zero. Policymakers must shift subsidies and financial support away from fossil fuels to clean energy and low carbon technologies, cut tariffs on climate-friendly practices and goods, and take adequate measures to ensure a just transition.

2. Policymakers must support and incentivize first-movers in the fight against climate change, to help scale existing proven solutions and develop new sustainable technologies. Universally harmonized laws and regulations can help accelerate key technologies and sustainable best practices and encourage public adoption of low-carbon products.

3. Public and private investment is a crucial part of creating resilient supply chains and infrastructure that can help advance climate resilience, sustainable food production and secure water supplies. Mobilizing capital for large scale infrastructure projects requires a coordinated approach between developers, investors, public finance institutions and governments, particularly in developing countries.

The IEA’s recent Net Zero by 2050 report sets out a roadmap for policymakers and world leaders to follow, setting out key milestones over the coming three decades to reach net zero by 2050. Reaching net zero by 2050 is not going to be easy, but it can be done.

The science is clear, what is needed now is urgent, robust and sustained global action.

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Is a World Without Nuclear Weapons Really Possible?

Subscribe to this week in foreign policy, michael e. o’hanlon michael e. o’hanlon director of research - foreign policy , director - strobe talbott center for security, strategy, and technology , co-director - africa security initiative , senior fellow - foreign policy , strobe talbott center for security, strategy, and technology , philip h. knight chair in defense and strategy @michaeleohanlon.

May 4, 2010

  • 12 min read

Can mankind uninvent the nuclear bomb, and rid the world of the greatest military threat to the human species and the survival of the planet ever created?

Logic might seem to say of course not. But the president of the United States and a number of key foreign-policy dignitaries are now on record saying yes. They acknowledge that a nuclear-weapons-free world remains a vision, not immediately attainable and perhaps not achievable within the lifetimes of most contemporary policy makers. But they believe that the vision needs to be shared, in a vibrant, powerful way.

A movement known as Global Zero has gained in strength to attempt just that. It was established in the wake of a January 2007 newspaper column by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn advocating a nuclear-free world. A group of 100 signatories (not including the above four) established Global Zero in Paris in December 2008. The organization’s goal is to rid the world of nuclear weapons by 2030 through a multilateral, universal, verifiable process, with negotiations on the Global Zero treaty beginning by 2019.

Ideas about eliminating the bomb are as old as the bomb itself. But Global Zero draws inspiration from the recent grass-roots effort to craft a land-mine treaty, and from the work of several influential philanthropists in global antipoverty campaigns. Of course, it also evolved from earlier nonproliferation efforts, including the 1996 report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. But the pace of the nonproliferation movement has accelerated in recent years. The current movement is notable too in that it has a serious strategy for moving forward—not at some distant time when miraculous new inventions might make nukes obsolete, but by later this decade, even if it would take at least another decade to put a treaty into effect.

Will President Obama really pursue such an idea? He gave an inspiring speech in Prague early in his first year in office, agreed to modest cuts in deployed forces with Russia in the New Start Treaty, and modestly lowered the profile of nuclear weapons in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report. Those steps are not insignificant, but they have a good deal of continuity with past policy, and still leave us very far from nuclear zero.

The much-heralded nuclear-security summit in April, in Washington, was worthwhile. But it was notable primarily not for its progress toward nuclear zero, but for actions to reduce the risks of nuclear theft, accident, and terrorism. For example, Mexico agreed to convert a research reactor from highly enriched uranium (usable in bombs) to lower-enriched uranium (not usable); Ukraine agreed to eliminate its stocks of highly enriched uranium within two years; the United States and Russia recommitted to eliminate an excess stock of plutonium; and so on. Those steps, as well as the administration’s 25-percent increase in spending for global nonproliferation activities (to $2.7-billion in the 2011 budget request), are entirely sensible. But it seems unlikely that Obama will push nuclear issues in additional bold new ways anytime soon. On other national-security matters like Iraq and Afghanistan, he has been extremely pragmatic and deferential to military commanders, and other priorities, especially economic recovery, compete for his time and attention.

But even if Obama, in effect, drops nuclear zero, crises in Iran and North Korea may bring the issue to a head soon. As Obama is surely all too keenly aware, the motivation for nuclear-weapons abolition is not utopian or futuristic. It is the very pragmatic, immediate need to deny extremist countries the excuse of getting the bomb because others already have it. With leaders in Tehran, P’yongyang, and elsewhere bent on getting nuclear weapons, and charging Americans with double standards in our insistence that we can have the bomb but they cannot, Obama’s ability to galvanize a global coalition to pressure Iran, North Korea, and possibly others into scaling back their weapons programs may depend in part on regaining the moral high ground. And that, in turn, may require an American commitment to work toward giving up its own arsenal—that is, once doing so is verifiable, and once others agree to do the same.

But how to rid the world of nukes? And how to do so safely? A nuclear-abolition treaty could constructively contribute to global stability if done right, but it could be hazardous if done wrong. Among other things, it could make countries that depend on America’s military protection decide they should seek nuclear weapons of their own. Serious consequences could ensue if the Turkeys and Saudi Arabias and Japans and Taiwans of the world interpret the American debate over Global Zero to imply that they can no longer rely on the United States as a dependable strategic partner—a formal ally in the cases of Turkey and Japan, a more informal but still-trusted friend in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. The Global Zero movement could wind up sparking the very wave of nuclear proliferation and instability it was designed to prevent.

Sam Nunn compares nuclear disarmament to a mountain, with the summit beyond our current grasp and perhaps even out of sight. He advocates moving to a higher base camp, meaning much deeper disarmament and related measures, to determine if we can later reach the summit. That image makes sense, but I’d urge even more caution: We must also be safe on the way to the new base camp, and avoid committing ourselves to a certain route to the top too soon. A few scholars, including George Perkovich, Barry M. Blechman, and Frank N. von Hippel, acknowledge and discuss such complexities, but most Global Zero advocates don’t.

My forthcoming book on the subject does not argue against nuclear abolition; it is in fact a friendly skeptic’s case for nuclear disarmament. But I emphasize the conditions and caveats that would have to accompany any such treaty regime—including clear rules for how major powers might consider rearming themselves with nukes in the event of a future violation, even after weapons have supposedly been abolished. What if a dangerous country is highly suspected of having an active nuclear-weapons program but verification cannot resolve the question? What if a country develops an advanced biological pathogen with enormous potential lethality—and perhaps even an antidote that it could employ to protect its own people? Would nuclear deterrence truly be irrelevant or inappropriate as a response?

Many, if not most, advocates of Global Zero consider the abolition of nuclear weapons the moral equivalent of the abolition of slavery, and imply that, as with slavery, once eliminated, nukes should be gone for good. (The exception, these advocates say, would be a blatant violation of the treaty by a country that chooses to build a nuclear arsenal.) That, however, is a dangerous vision of a nuke-free world because it would deprive us of deterrent options we may someday need. Even once we eliminate nuclear weapons, in other words, we will have to accept the fact that we may not have done so forever. At a practical level, we will most likely still be living in a world full of nuclear power plants, as well as nuclear waste from nuclear bomb and energy programs to date. Neither the knowledge nor the nuclear materials will disappear.

What of the issue of timing—not only of when to try to negotiate and then eventually put in place a treaty, but of explaining the vision of nuclear disarmament for the short term? Many abolition advocates pull back the minute anyone asks if they want a treaty soon, recognizing the impracticality of trying to abolish nuclear weapons quickly. But it is they who put the idea into the contemporary nuclear debate with a renewed urgency, so putting off the details is neither consistent nor advisable.

That’s OK. There’s no time like the present, right? After all, eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth has technically been a goal of United States policy since the 1960s. Moreover, the world is likely to lose sight of the big picture during slow negotiations over the recent New Start Treaty with Moscow and ratification debates over that pact as well as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Bold ideas are inspiring and help the world remember how much is at stake.

I argue for a middle ground. Moving to nuclear zero at a set date in the near future is too fast. But dropping the subject for now and waiting for the 22nd century is too slow. Trying to abolish nuclear weapons too soon can, as I’ve said, spook American allies under our protection, but can also disrupt deterrent arrangements that are working today yet also somewhat fragile. That is, too much haste could encourage states entirely disinterested in nuclear disarmament to build up arsenals in the hope that the existing nuclear powers will reduce and thereby render their own nascent nuclear power greater. Too much haste also simply lacks credibility in a world in which some countries—Russia, Israel, Pakistan—clearly have no interest in denuclearizing anytime soon, even if the United States did. Declaration of ambitious but arbitrary and unattainable deadlines for action is more likely to discredit the Global Zero movement than to advance it.

The problem with putting off the nuclear-disarmament agenda, however, is that it leaves existing powers in a weak position to pressure would-be proliferators to abstain from the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and perpetuates a sense of complacency about the supposed safety of living with the bomb. We need a prudent form of urgency. Neither haste and impetuousness nor indefinite postponement on the matter will do.

The right time horizon for seriously pushing a new nuclear accord is when most of the world’s half-dozen or so major territorial and existential issues involving major powers are resolved—and this cannot be set to a calendar as precisely as the Global Zero movement would like. Those issues include the status of Taiwan, the territorial status of Kashmir, political relations between Russia and key “near abroad” states of Georgia and Ukraine in particular, and friction between Israel and its neighbors. Nuclear crises involving Iran and North Korea also need to be resolved, though the beginnings of a move toward nuclear disarmament might not have to await their complete resolution.

Once the former matters are largely resolved, the plausibility of great-power war over any imaginable issue that we can identify today will be very low. That would, in turn, make the basic structure and functioning of the international political system stable enough to take the risk of moving toward a nuclear-free world. That process will be so radical as to be inherently destabilizing in some sense, and thus prudent to pursue only when the great powers are in a cooperative mode and undivided by irredentist territorial matters.

Some argue that there is no foreseeable period of great-power peace and thus no prospect of the preconditions required for moving toward a denuclearized world. Such scholars often call themselves “realists” and imply that ideas such as Global Zero are just too utopian to be within mankind’s reach. But the so-called realists have a problem with their argument, too—the history of fallible mankind, and particularly of the nuclear age to date, makes it hard to believe that nuclear weapons will never be used if they continue to occupy a central role in international politics. If realism consigns us to the likelihood of nuclear war someday, it is hard to see why it is so prudent a worldview—indeed, it is hard even to call it realist, with all the connotations of prudence and pragmatism that the term implies.

That said, my vision for nuclear disarmament is of dismantling nuclear warheads, and should not be confused with their permanent abolition. The term “abolition” has several inappropriate connotations for our nuclear future. While most plausible uses of nuclear weapons would in fact be inhumane, it is war itself that is most inhumane, and war targeting civilians through whatever means that is the fundamental moral blight we should be trying to eliminate. Certain forms of biological-weapons attack, especially with plausible future pathogens; of large-scale conventional conflict resembling the world wars; and of wars that include genocide could be every bit as inhumane.

Outlawing nuclear weapons in a way that increased the prospects of other types of immoral warfare would be no accomplishment at all. Even as we strive for dismantling nuclear weapons, we need practical options for rebuilding them should even greater perils present themselves. Those might be pursuit of nuclear arms by a country bent on violating the accord, the development of advanced biological pathogens (the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report follows this line of thought), and even an especially threatening conventional military buildup by a future extremist state. That is the broad, strategic argument in favor of preserving options for nuclear reconstitution under a temporary withdrawal from the treaty, even after nuclear disarmament might someday be a reality.

The terms by which the right of temporary withdrawal could be exercised must be clearly stated, and a burden of proof placed on any state or group of states exercising the right. I argue for a “contact group” of democratic states, including not just traditional allies but newer powers like India and Brazil, that would be asked to support an American decision to rearm, should Washington ever consider that necessary. (The U.N. Security Council might not be reliable for that purpose, though it should be consulted too.)

Capricious or blatantly self-serving reconstitution must be avoided. But a treaty that precluded the international community from responding to the actions of an advanced future military power believed to be pursuing nuclear, biological, or enormous conventional military capabilities would be a chimera.

There is also a technical reason to view reconstitution as a real future policy option, even short of such extreme circumstances. Simply put, nuclear weapons will always be within reach of mankind, whatever we may do, whatever we may wish. Verification methods will almost surely be incapable of assuring us that all existing materials are dismantled or destroyed, even as verification improves in coming years. Moreover, demands for the nuclear-power industry make it likely that bomb-grade materials will be salvageable from nuclear fuel or nuclear waste.

In other words, not only is permanent, irreversible abolition unwise, it is also probably impossible. Still, dismantlement of all existing bomb inventories, in recognition of the fact that the day-to-day role of nuclear weapons in international security is dangerous and ultimately unsustainable, should become our goal.

With all the caveats and conditions, is a nuclear-disarmament treaty worth the trouble? Yes, because of the danger posed by nuclear weapons, on the one hand, and the positive power of ideas and ideals in international politics on the other. These weapons are so heinously destructive as to be illegitimate; they are fundamentally indiscriminate killers, and on top of that, they have proved to be far harder to safely build and handle than many understand. They have no proper role even as visible deterrents in the normal interactions of states, and we should aspire to a world in which they would no longer have such an active, operational role.

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Global net-zero emissions goals: Challenges and opportunities

Photo: Deployment of offshore wind at utility scale is one of many strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with net-zero emissions targets. (Source: Jesse Costa/WBUR)

To avert the worst impacts of climate change, from extreme flooding to devastating droughts, the world will need to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the latest United Nations  IPCC Report  on the Earth’s climate system. Achieving that goal means that by around 2050, the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions will need to decline to  net-zero . To that end, more and more governments and businesses are setting net-zero emissions targets.   

At the XLIV (44th) MIT  Global Change Forum  on March 23-24, 2022, more than 100 attendees from industry, academia, government and NGOs gathered at the Samberg Conference Center on the MIT campus and on Zoom to explore how global net-zero emissions goals are creating challenges and opportunities for carbon budgets, decarbonizing energy and industry, nature-based solutions, climate and health, negative emission technologies, and policy design. Facilitated by the  MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change  in an informal, “off-the-record” setting for independent assessment of studies and policy proposals, presentations and discussions examined this year’s Forum theme from a variety of perspectives.

"We meet at a time when the urgent need to transition to a net-zero-greenhouse-gas-emitting world is made even more complex by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the premature acceleration of climate extremes, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said MIT Joint Program Director  Ronald Prinn , a professor at MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences in his opening remarks. “New questions now arise such as how an emerging case for security in national energy supplies may help or hinder the net-zero transition. As the complexity grows, the need for deep-dive modeling of complex interacting human and natural systems that is the hallmark of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change is becoming more and more evident."

Here, with permission from all speakers, we summarize key points from this year’s Forum presentations.

Carbon Budgets

The first session explored the concept of carbon budgets and how it can be applied in the design of strategies aimed at achieving net-zero-emissions.

One common definition of a carbon budget is “the total net amount of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) that can still be emitted by human activities while limiting global warming to a specified level.” The impetus for estimating the Earth’s “remaining-carbon budget” is that concentrations and growth rates of CO 2 —the main driver of long-term anthropogenic climate change—are the highest they’ve been in millions of years. The latest IPCC Report estimates that there’s a 50% probability that we can limit global warming to 1.5°C (or 2°C) starting in 2020 with a carbon budget of about 500 gigatons (Gt) (or 1,350 Gt) of CO 2 . Another carbon budget definition quantifies exchanges and storage of carbon between and within global land, ocean and atmosphere systems. While about half of CO 2  emissions get sequestered in land and ocean systems, the remaining half ends up in the atmosphere where it largely warms the global climate along with other, shorter-lived greenhouse gas emissions such as methane. In recent years, the ability of the land and oceans to store CO 2  has showed signs of weakening, a trend consistent with El Nino Southern Oscillation events and evidence of climate-warming impacts from Earth-system models.

To estimate a remaining-carbon budget, the IPCC considers: historical warming to date (about 1.1°C), transient climate response to cumulative emissions of CO 2 , zero-emission commitment (how much warming might still occur if emissions go to zero), projected future non-CO 2  temperature contribution, and unrepresented Earth-system feedbacks—all accompanied by uncertainty ranges. Estimated carbon budgets determine how much CO 2  can still be emitted in order to align with a specified climate target. They also provide the scientific basis for net-zero targets. While many of today’s announced net-zero targets are imprecise, they can be improved by providing clarification on scope, adequacy and fairness, and the long-term roadmap for achieving the target. By using cumulative emissions until net-zero to design mitigation pathways, limitations of the current scenario literature can be overcome—reducing the risk of exceeding maximum temperature limits and limiting the burden on future generations to remove large quantities of CO 2  from the atmosphere.  

Decarbonizing energy and industry

The second session focused on how the energy and industry sectors can effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with net-zero emissions goals.

The energy sector contributes about 73 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the sector must decarbonize at an unprecedented pace. But to be deployed at scale, zero-carbon energy technologies must not cause significant increases in energy prices and declines in energy access. Among these are wind and solar, which now account for two percent of global primary energy use and must increase dramatically. The MIT Joint Program, most notably in its  2021 Global Change Outlook , has explored different emissions pathways and risks in the coming decades. Its most ambitious climate policy scenarios show a substantial decline in fossil fuel use, and significant increases in wind and solar, and in electrification. A wide range of future technologies will be needed to get to net-zero, from advanced nuclear power to direct air carbon capture. Critical minerals will be in greater demand for the clean energy transition, and obtaining sufficient quantities could be a challenge .

A recent net-zero emissions (NZE) scenario prepared by the International Energy Association (IEA) shows that dramatic reductions in industrial CO 2  emissions will be needed to achieve net-zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050. One key challenge is posed by heavy industries—primarily steel, cement and chemicals—particularly in emerging market and developing economies, where they are expected to produce the majority of industry-sector emissions in 2050. Heavy industries use large amounts of fossil fuels, especially to generate high-temperature heat for industrial processes. The IEA NZE scenario shows that interventions at end of the next 25-year capital investment cycle could prevent the release of about 60 gigatons of cumulative CO 2 , around 40% of projected emissions from existing heavy industry assets. While direct substitution of electricity at the scale required is impractical or expensive with today’s technologies to reduce heavy-industry emissions, innovative technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture utilization and storage could play a critical role.

Nature-based solutions

The third session examined how nature-based solutions (NBS) can contribute to global efforts to achieve net-zero emissions.

The World Conservation Union defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.” NBS opportunities include protecting natural ecosystems, restoring degraded ecosystems, and more sustainably managing ecosystems used for food, fiber and energy production. One NBS method, reforestation, could deliver substantial CO 2  sequestration, but also intensify competition for land-based food production. Agroecological farming, another NBS approach, may store 20-33% more soil carbon than conventional agriculture, but runs the risk of mal-adaptation and mal-mitigation. Finally, systems to monitor and measure carbon sequestration will be needed to determine how much to pay NBS providers for the environmental services they perform. 

NBS that is implemented within large-scale systems and in ways that also meet human needs can be at least as additional and “permanent” as reductions in fossil fuel extraction. To that end, there is an urgent need to act now on deforestation to avoid nearly irreversible loss. Beyond avoiding tropical deforestation, there is a lot of global potential for NBS carbon storage through afforestation/reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands. NBS could contribute 29% of net reductions needed to be on a 2°C pathway in 2030, but one key challenge is to make NBS crediting programs effective and equitable. In one analysis, the global use of carbon markets with forest-based NBS could allow nearly doubling of climate ambition at the same cost, relative to current Paris Agreement pledges. Jurisdictional approaches to forest protection, in which deforestation is reduced through national or regional-scale forest protection programs, could provide high-integrity credits from avoiding tropical deforestation.

Climate and health

The fourth session centered on efforts to formulate integrated emissions-reduction policies that not only help stabilize the climate but also improve air quality and public health outcomes.

Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ) resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels contributes to more than 25 percent of all air pollution-related deaths globally. The use of solid fuels (wood, charcoal and animal dung) in residential settings is another major contributor to air pollution-related health impacts. Policies that accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources could improve air quality and public health outcomes considerably while simultaneously advancing climate goals. The changing climate is expected to increase public health vulnerability and costs, underscoring the need to incorporate air quality and health concerns in climate action. Key questions that can advance integrated air pollution, public health and climate policies are: What are the major sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases, and how do they contribute to health impacts; what are their relative contributions to disease burdens; and what actions are needed to achieve substantial improvements in the future?

Previous research in this space separated “direct” from “indirect” benefits of climate policies, framing improved health outcomes as “co-benefits” of such policies. But a more holistic approach to policy design could advance an integrated set of objectives based on questions such as: What are the observed impacts of climate and energy policies on air quality? Who benefits and why (including assessment of environmental justice and equity)? What strategies can promote well-being for the present and future (and what new methods and models are needed to evaluate options)? This approach could yield new insights on proposed energy, climate and air pollution policies such as: health impacts may depend on local responses to policy; and maximizing overall benefits at the national level may not address disparities at subnational levels. New models and methods can facilitate multi-dimensional assessment (e.g. of multiple indicators/outcomes relevant to sustainability) of policy strategies on different scales. 

Keynote address: MIT Grand Climate Challenges

The keynote address highlighted the  MIT Grand Climate Challenges  initiative, which seeks to “mobilize the MIT research community to develop game-changing solutions to the most challenging unsolved problems in climate adaptation, mitigation and restoration.” Engaging all disciplines across MIT, the initiative aims to draw on the MIT innovation ecosystem and develop new partnerships with multiple communities, businesses and investors to accelerate development, field-testing, implementation and scaling of these solutions. Twenty-seven finalist projects represent four themes: building equity and fairness into climate solutions; removing, managing and storing greenhouse gases; decarbonizing complex industries and processes; and using data and science to forecast climate-related risk. In the spring of 2022, MIT will announce a small number of flagship projects from among the 27 finalists.

Negative emission technologies

The fifth session explored the potential of negative emission technologies to enable the world to meet net-zero emissions and long-term Paris Agreement climate targets.

Negative emission technologies (NETs) are those that physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in a manner intended to be permanent, with the total quantity of stored CO 2  exceeding the total quantity of CO 2  emitted or leaked into the atmosphere by the NET. NETs include afforestation and reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, biochar, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture, enhanced weathering and ocean alkalinization, and ocean fertilization. NETs are not an alternative to greenhouse gas mitigation methods, but a complementary toolset to help ensure that emissions and climate targets are met. How much the world will need to rely on NETs to meet those targets will depend on how late it starts to aggressively mitigate emissions at the global level. Within the portfolio of NETs, no one method is a silver bullet. To ensure climate stabilization, NETs must be deployed in such a way that the CO 2  that they extract from the atmosphere is removed permanently and is subject to effective measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) protocols.

A study of BECCS designed to quantify its potential scale and impact on the economy under 1.5°C or 2°C scenarios   shows that in 2100 without BECCS, total primary energy (TPE) is 33-38 percent of what it would be in a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario; with BECCS, TPE nearly reaches BAU levels, with emissions from oil use offset by BECCS. When it comes to net CO 2 -equivalent emissions under a 1.5°C or 2°C scenario, without BECCS the world will need significant additional emissions reductions; with BECCS it will have a lot more “headroom” to achieve the same emissions pathway. The study shows that BECCS significantly reduces the cost of meeting long-term targets, causes significant land-use change, but only increases food prices by about 1.5 percent. All technical components for large-scale BECCS now exist, but many challenges, from availability of sustainable biomass to public acceptance, could limit its deployment. Other research indicates that when designing climate-stabilizing emissions pathways, one must consider the full range of options (no NETs to multiple NETs) for risk assessment and planning.

Policy: The way forward

The sixth and final session explored the design and implications of policies aimed at achieving net-zero emissions targets, with a focus on the near-term actions needed to get there.

Prospects for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation in the United States improved in 2021 with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the House of Representatives’ passage of the Build Back Better (BBB) Bill. Stalled in the Senate, BBB would earmark $555 billion for measures aimed at reducing GHG emissions 50-52-percent below 2005 levels by 2035. While the bill focuses on many sectors of the economy, it would reduce emissions the most in the transportation and electricity sectors.

Meanwhile, the European Green Deal led to the enactment of a European Union law that seeks climate neutrality by 2050 and sets the EU’s Paris Agreement target for 2030 to at least 55 percent below 1990 GHG emissions levels. The EU also introduced a “Fit for 55” package of 16 legislative proposals aligned with that target, and a Sustainable Finance Framework to re-orient capital flows toward sustainable investment. Finally, the EU is working to phase out dependence on Russian fossil fuel imports.

Recent successes in decarbonizing the energy sector provide lessons for mitigation of GHG emissions in agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). What has accelerated decarbonization in the power sector—technical advances, simulation modeling, policy support and institutional innovation—might also bring about the level of innovation and investment needed to substantially cut GHG emissions in AFOLU. Accounting for about 21 percent of global GHG emissions in 2018, AFOLU is a major source of methane emissions, and is the only sector with significant potential to deliver net-negative emissions.

In 2020, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts committed the state to a 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal; in 2021 he signed into law  An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy , which codified that goal. Analysis conducted by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs found that the state could achieve the 2050 goal cost-effectively and equitably. Strategies include deployment of large-scale offshore wind, importation of additional hydropower, and decarbonization of home heating systems and private vehicles—and ensuring that the needed green technologies are adopted by and affordable for everyone.

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What Is Decarbonization, and How Do We Make It Happen?

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, Columbia Climate School has a variety of great events and stories lined up for you. Learn more on our Earth Day website .

global zero essay

To keep the planet from warming more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, most countries, including the U.S., have goals to reach net zero by 2050. Net zero means that all greenhouse gas emissions produced are counterbalanced by an equal amount of emissions that are eliminated. Achieving this will require rapid decarbonization.

There are two aspects to decarbonization. The first entails reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. This can be done by preventing emissions through the use of zero-carbon renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass, which now make up one-third of global power capacity, and electrifying as many sectors as possible. Energy efficiency will reduce the demand for energy, but increasing electrification will increase it, and in 2050, the demand for power is expected to be more than double what it is today.

Consequently, decarbonization will also require absorbing carbon from the atmosphere by capturing emissions  and enhancing carbon storage in agricultural lands and forests.

To achieve decarbonization, all aspects of the economy must change—from how energy is generated, and how we produce and deliver goods and services, to how lands are managed. The carbon dioxide and methane emissions that are warming the planet come largely from the power generation, industry, transport, buildings, and agriculture and land use sectors of the global economy, so these sectors must all be transformed. Here’s what decarbonization could look like in each sector.

illustration

Power generation

With the global population expected to reach 10 billion in 2060, and increasing electrification of society, the demand for electricity will grow, so decreasing the emissions per unit of electricity produced is essential. Power generation, including electricity and heat production, is responsible for 30 percent of global CO2 emissions because of the fossil fuels involved; they need to be replaced by renewable energy.

global zero essay

Renewable sources are now so economical that they made up the majority of new energy generation capacity in 2018. Solar energy prices have dropped about 80 percent in the last 10 years, while wind power has fallen 40 percent. Utility scale battery storage costs dropped 70 percent between 2015 and 2018. However, because renewable energy sources are intermittent, utilities still rely on the consistent baseline energy that fossil fuel and nuclear power plants can provide.

For the U.S. to reach its net zero goal, it must go from generating about 20 percent of electricity from carbon-free sources today to at least 75 percent by 2030. This will require increasing renewable energy generation and maintaining nuclear energy sources if the nuclear power plants are safe. Coal plants must be retired or retrofitted to capture 90 percent of their emissions. Carbon capture, utilization and storage needs to be expanded to capture CO2 emissions from remaining fossil fuel power plants. This CO2 can be used onsite or transported elsewhere for use in fuels, chemicals, or building materials, or injected into an underground reservoir for permanent storage.

Power plants must also be made more energy efficient. Two-thirds of the energy consumed to produce electricity is lost as waste heat; using that waste heat to warm the plant or nearby buildings, for example, can increase the energy efficiency of power generation by 80 percent.

global zero essay

Transmission lines must be built out to take renewable energy from where it is generated to all parts of the country. As renewables are increasingly integrated into the grid, improved low-cost energy storage for the grid is needed to help smooth out their intermittency and ensure dependability, especially as climate change brings more extreme weather. Distributed generation—small, decentralized modular energy generation systems such as microgrids — can use renewable energy and add resilience to the existing grid.

Incentive programs are also important to encourage consumers to reduce energy use at times of high stress on the grid and to manage home energy consumption via apps.

How Columbia is contributing

  • Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law provides pro bono legal support for people who want to see renewable energy development in their communities but are facing opposition.
  • In nature, CO2 spontaneously reacts with certain rocks, trapping the planet-warming gas in a solid mineral form. Peter Kelemen of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is finding ways to utilize this process at a large scale for decarbonization. Two start-up companies are already putting his innovations to work .
  • David Goldberg, a research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has suggested pairing offshore wind turbines with technology that captures carbon dioxide. That way, when the turbines generate more electricity than is needed to meet consumer demand, the extra electricity could be used to pull CO2 from the air.
  • Powerful batteries are needed to store renewable energy for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Dan Steingart from Columbia Engineering is working to build better batteries . In one ongoing project, he aims to greatly simplify and lower the cost of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries by changing their internal structure.

Industrial processes — such as steel, cement, and chemical production as well as oil, coal and gas extraction and refining — produce 30 percent of global CO2 emissions and 33 percent of methane emissions. Industry consumes 32 percent of U.S. energy.

global zero essay

This sector is one of the hardest to decarbonize because steel, cement, and chemical production may require temperatures of 1600°C or more, which are easily produced by fossil fuel combustion, but difficult to achieve through electrification. To electrify this intense heat generation would require significant changes to furnaces and so much energy that it would likely be economically unfeasible.

To truly decarbonize industry, production processes will need to be redesigned. Energy efficiency in industry can be increased through integrating processes, whether through initial design, retrofitting, or making operations more energy efficient. Cogeneration, where wasted heat is used to produce additional heat or electricity for the plant itself, and clustering plants at one site, which allows for synergy of operations or resources, are examples of process integration.

Processes should be electrified with renewable energy where possible. Sustainably produced biomass can be used for fuel at some cement factories and new steel plants, and for ethylene and ammonia production. Steel can be also produced through charcoal combustion rather than coal; charcoal is considered a renewable energy source since it comes from wood which grows relatively quickly. And ammonia, which is used for fertilizer, could be made with green hydrogen .

The use of carbon capture should be expanded as it is the only technology that can significantly curtail emissions from cement production.

  • When it comes to decarbonizing steel production, the Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy has identified carbon-neutral biomass and carbon capture and storage as two of the lowest cost and most technologically mature solutions.
  • At an Iceland-based pilot project called CarbFix — designed and carried out with Columbia leadership — researchers are reacting basaltic rock with CO2 captured from a power plant. The team mixes gasses generated by a geothermal power plant with water and reinjects the solution into the volcanic basalt below. There, the carbon precipitates out into whitish, chalky minerals — carbonates. CarbFix currently injects and stores about 10,000 tons of CO2 per year in solid carbonate minerals below ground.
  • While hydrogen fuel can be created from natural gas, Dan Esposito, associate professor of chemical engineering at Columbia University, is testing technologies that use solar energy to make carbon-free “green” hydrogen .

Transportation and transport, including aviation and maritime, generate 19 percent of CO2 emissions. To reach net zero in the U.S., 50 percent of all new vehicles must be zero-emission by 2030. This means they need to be electric vehicles (EVs) powered by renewable energy, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. More EVs on the road will necessitate expanding the EV charging station infrastructure across the country as well as developing better and cheaper batteries. Enhanced vehicle performance and fuel efficiency are also important for decreasing emissions.

global zero essay

Mass transit options and the railroad network need to be expanded, as well as car sharing services. For long-haul trucking, which is difficult to electrify, low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen and synthetic liquid fuels can be used. Aviation, which is responsible for 2.1 percent of global CO2 emissions, is considered the most difficult sector to decarbonize. Aviation’s emissions can be reduced through improved air traffic management, such as using more direct routes, and flying at optimal speeds and altitudes, and eventually through the adoption of alternative fuels such as biofuels and green hydrogen. Maritime transport runs on heavy fuel oil, producing 2.5 percent of global emissions. New vessels could reduce emissions through technical improvements, such as waste heat recovery and streamlined operations. Because the heavy fuel oil is much cheaper than alternative fuels, however, it’s unlikely that maritime transport will switch to low-carbon fuels in the near future.

How Columbia is contributing:

  • The Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development created an app to help people in Nairobi access an informal network of minibuses, an important form of public transit in that city. Recently, they also co-authored a report on how minibuses could be made electric in three African cities.

Buildings are responsible for 6 percent of CO2 emissions. Some of these emissions are embodied in the buildings from the mining, processing, manufacture, transportation, and installation of materials they are made of. Other emissions are generated by buildings through the operation of their heat, electric, and cooling systems, cooking, and appliances.

For new building construction, more efficient manufacturing of building materials, and the use of greener materials such as wood from sustainably managed forests, non-toxic recycled materials, or concrete that incorporates CO2 will reduce emissions. Carbon-negative buildings can produce more energy than they themselves need with solar panels and feed it back to the grid.

global zero essay

Existing and older buildings need to be retrofitted to increase energy efficiency through improving insulation, sealing gaps, switching to electrified heating and cooling systems with heat pumps running on renewable energy, installing LEDs, implementing smart energy management systems, and creating incentives for energy efficient appliances and electric cookstoves. National efficiency standards for buildings, heating and cooling equipment, and appliances are needed to drive these changes.

  • Mechanical engineer Vijay Modi has investigated how to decarbonize heating systems, which often run on oil or natural gas. His lab has found that using electric heat pumps powered by renewable energy could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save consumers money.
  • Cement manufacturing is responsible for 5% of global CO2 emissions. Alissa Park, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, is working on a “greener” cement made with captured carbon emissions. Her method reacts ash from power plants with captured CO2 to produce calcium carbonate. This material can be used to make concrete or paper with a lower carbon footprint. Park is using a similar process to clean up waste from the production of steel , another essential construction material.
  • Dan Esposito and Shih Kawashima from Columbia Engineering are working to decarbonize the cement-making process as well. Their process extracts raw materials from seawater and uses room-temperature processing to convert them into cement that is comparable in strength to Portland cement, today’s industrial standard. They estimate their cement could absorb more than 100 kilograms of CO2 per ton of concrete—rather than releasing 170 kilograms per ton through the usual process.

Agriculture and land use

Agricultural energy use and practices generate 1 percent of CO2 emissions and 38 percent of methane emissions, the latter mainly from livestock production. Carbon emissions can be reduced through more sustainable farming practices, such as regenerative agriculture that enhances soil carbon storage and protects biodiversity. Stronger incentives are needed to encourage farmers to adopt these sustainable techniques, as well as to reduce the methane cattle produce as they digest by using additives in their food.

Consumers can help by reducing their meat and dairy intake, because forests are being destroyed to grow soy for animal feed and to create pasture land for livestock grazing. These changes in land cover are responsible for 14 percent of CO2 emissions and 5 percent of methane emissions. As the world’s forests are deforested and disturbed, they emit almost 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Recent research  found that the amount of carbon emitted due to the deforestation of tropical forests has doubled since 2001.

global zero essay

Incentives are needed to encourage afforestation, the planting of new forests, and the reforestation of degraded forests to increase carbon sequestration, and to support keeping remaining forests protected and intact.

  • An analysis from the Center on Global Energy Policy found that the conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural croplands or pastures is the largest source of greenhouse emissions in the entire food system, contributing nearly 3 billion metric tons per year.

Some countries are on their way

global zero essay

Some countries are making good progress towards decarbonization. China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, and the United Kingdom are further along to net zero than many others, mainly because of the natural resources they are blessed with. Ethiopia and Costa Rica get the majority of their electricity from hydropower; Norway generates 97 percent and Paraguay 99 percent of their electricity from renewable energy, mostly hydropower. China,

Denmark and the U.K. have targets for energy efficiency along with the policies and investments to support them. The U.S. and China installed the most wind and solar PV in 2019, and almost 25 percent of China’s energy is electricity rather than natural gas or oil. Germany recently announced plans to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035.

Challenges and limitations

According to the Brookings Institution , achieving net zero by 2050 is technically and economically feasible with current technologies and those in development, but it will require enormous behavioral changes, rigorous new policies, and international cooperation.

One thing that makes decarbonization challenging is that while it will be profitable over the long-term, it will require huge investments in the short term. It will likely take $275 trillion between 2021 and 2050 to decarbonize the sectors above, with power generation, transportation, and buildings using 75 percent of the spending on physical assets.

Research  has predicted that to completely decarbonize industry would take four to nine times as much zero carbon electricity as it would if we do nothing to decarbonize, so the cost of electricity is expected to rise as renewable resources are expanded and the grid infrastructure is built out. Eventually the price of electricity from renewable sources will likely drop because of lower operating costs, but consumers may initially face higher energy costs.

The single biggest challenge to decarbonization is how much money has been invested in the grid and fossil fuel infrastructure, said Steve Cohen, a professor in the practice of public affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and director of the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management. “The average person has also invested a lot in fossil fuels through their boilers and gasoline powered cars. So the challenge will only be overcome when renewable energy gets so cheap and convenient that it will drive fossil fuels from the market.”

global zero essay

Renewable energy also threatens the business model of the grid where people pay utilities for their power, and fossil fuel interests are pushing back, Cohen added. For example, the California Public Utilities Commission is considering a “grid integration” tax on people who feed extra energy from their solar arrays back to the grid.

Reaching 100 percent decarbonization also depends on new technologies that are still costly and not yet at scale. Biofuels are expensive and supplies are limited since they could compete with food for land. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage is effective but will require technological improvements and scaling up to reduce its cost. Bioenergy carbon capture and storage, where biomass such as wood pellets or agricultural waste is burned for fuel and the emissions are captured and stored, is a relatively new technology, and has not yet been scaled up. Green hydrogen , produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy, costs three times as much as natural gas in the U.S.

“The government needs to make massive investments in science and into these new technologies to accelerate the decarbonization process,” said Cohen. Private investors are eager to invest in green technology, but the lack of consistent and long-term policies to ensure continuing carbon reduction efforts makes investing risky.

That is why a wide range of policies that set performance standards and goals and provide incentives to reward CO2 reduction are needed to drive investment into low-carbon technologies. A global carbon tax would also help push economies to decarbonize though it would further raise the cost of energy. The policies that are needed to spur progress towards decarbonization are difficult to enact, however, because of political polarization and lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry.

For example, 20 states with Republican controlled legislatures have adopted preemption laws backed by fossil fuel interests that prohibit the states from banning natural gas, which means preventing them from moving to the electrification of buildings. Texas passed a law requiring state pension funds to divest from companies moving away from fossil fuels, and a West Virginia law would prevent companies that boycott energy firms from receiving state contracts.

The latest report by the IPCC  found that climate change is occurring so rapidly that humans may not be able to adapt to its impacts. What is needed to help stymie the attempts to further impede climate action is a citizenry that is better educated about climate impacts, the critical need to decarbonize, and what it will require. Moreover, it’s important that there are measures in place, such as subsidies to offset higher energy prices, to ease any resulting economic burdens, particularly for disadvantaged and low-income communities.

Cohen is confident that we will be able to decarbonize our economy in time to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. However, rather than framing the issue in terms of climate change, he believes it would be more effective to highlight something everyone can agree on. “We should focus on a consensus that we can build on: modernizing our vulnerable and antiquated energy grid. A modern, lower cost energy system that is less polluting is something everyone should find appealing because we all rely on energy.”

To help advance our work, please consider supporting Columbia Climate School and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory today. You can also learn more on our Earth Day website .

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Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.

I am really curious if the work has ever been done looking at the added CO2 emissions and added economic cost to the additional mining of natural resources that has been done to produce some of the “renewable” energy items, for example it takes 40lbs of copper among other precious minerals to produce batteries for electric cars versus conventional fossil fuel vehicles that only take 4lbs of copper. What is the cost of running the massive mining equipment to get those minerals? There are only 4 mines on the planet that are known to contain platinum and palladium, both used for batteries for electric vehicles, has the cost of mining these as well as importing from countries that have mines but don’t have the regulations we have in the U.S. been calculated? Have the solar panels been studied or looked at for the amount of reflective heat/energy they “bounce” back into the atmosphere? Has this ever been a thought? Have the numbers and data been analyzed into what it takes to produce the silicon used in solar panels and all the electronics? Producing silicon requires extreme temperatures as well as using highly volatile gas, an extensive process. Also, what is the statistic of deforestation due to urban sprawl?

Alex

nono, I think it is just a pale summary

Marco Mazzoni

This is called a ‘life-cycle cost assessment’ and has been done. Here’s one report: Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies | PNAS

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EXPLAINER: Are we making real progress towards 'net zero' emissions?

Solar panels are shown on the roof of the Hanover Olympic building, the first building to offer individual solar-powered net-zero apartments in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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Many countries and companies have set 'net zero' goals to curb global warming - but they are still too weak to kickstart the huge changes needed in how we live, work and play

BARCELONA, June 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments, cities and companies are rushing to set the net-zero emissions goals scientists say must be met by mid-century to keep global warming to agreed limits - but achieving them is another matter.

A new analysis by the Net Zero Tracker research initiative notes that in the last few years interest in setting such targets has "exploded" – but "an alarming lack of credibility still pervades the entire landscape", it warned.

"This is problematic because if some of the targets disguise inaction, it can create a false sense of progress," said the June report from the UK-based Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, Data-Driven EnviroLab, NewClimate Institute and Oxford Net Zero.

Many of the goals - especially those set by business - lack transparency, cover only limited types of emissions, rely too heavily on carbon offsetting or have no interim milestones to stay on track, it added.

What does the growing global enthusiasm for "net zero" mean and what is its importance for the climate and our economies?

WHY DOES 'NET ZERO' MATTER?

It may have become a buzzword in the world of climate action, but scientists and policy makers say it's key to keeping us safe from harm as the planet warms.

The U.N. climate science panel has said man-made carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by about 45% by 2030, from 2010 levels, and reach "net zero" by mid-century to give the world a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries said they would act to curb the rise in global average temperatures to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and strive to keep it to a ceiling of 1.5C.

But the world has already heated up by about 1.1C and is set for warming of close to 2.5C this century, even if current pledges to rein in still-rising emissions by 2030 are implemented, researchers estimate.

In May, the World Meteorological Organization warned there is a 50:50 chance of the average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5C above the pre-industrial level for at least one of the next five years – and that likelihood is increasing with time.

Should that happen, it would not mean the Paris accord limits have been broken but it would be a precursor of what the world could be like if they are.

Scientists say surpassing 1.5-2C of warming for a longer period of time would bring worsening extreme weather and potentially catastrophic sea level rise, making some parts of the planet uninhabitable and fuelling hunger and migration.

These risks - and mounting public pressure to act on climate change threats - are why a fast-rising number of countries, companies and others are promising to cut their planet-warming emissions to net zero by 2050 or soon after.

If the mid-century net-zero goals set so far are actually met, global warming could be kept to about 1.8C, analysts say.

But some climate activists have criticised 2050 net-zero goals for enabling countries and companies to postpone emissions reductions until a vague far-off date.

WHAT IS NET ZERO?

Achieving net-zero emissions isn't the same as eliminating all emissions.

It means ensuring any human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) or other planet-warming gases that can't be avoided or locked up are removed from the atmosphere some other way .

This can be done naturally, such as by restoring forests that suck CO2 out of the air. It can also be done using technology that captures and stores emissions from power plants and factories or directly pulls CO2 from the atmosphere.

Planting more trees worldwide is a popular way to absorb and store more carbon, but human-made technologies that perform the same job remain expensive and have yet to be deployed on a large-scale.

Scientists say carbon "removals", in any form, cannot substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible - although some removals are likely to be needed and deployed to help curb rising temperatures.

There is fierce debate around the growing enthusiasm for carbon offsetting - where governments, companies and individuals pay for their emissions to be compensated by clean energy and conservation projects that reduce CO2 emissions elsewhere. Those emissions cuts are then counted as part of the government, company or individual’s own carbon-cutting efforts.

global zero essay

WHO HAS COMMITTED TO NET ZERO?

At a country level, the picture is improving, according to the latest Net Zero Tracker report, but things are advancing more slowly among businesses and cities.

National government net-zero targets now cover 91% of global GDP, up from 68% in December 2020, and represent at least 83% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with about two-thirds of those goals enshrined in law or policy documents.

Only 10 countries have set target years later than 2050 but they include some of the world’s biggest emitters – including China’s 2060 pledge and India’s 2070 commitment. Those 10 countries are responsible for about 55% of all emissions by countries with net zero targets, the researchers said.

Large cities are lagging, with 235 having set a net-zero target, mainly in rich countries in North America, Europe, and Asia - but more than 900 have yet to do so.

More than a third of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, meanwhile, now have net-zero targets - up from a fifth in December 2020 - but 65% of corporate targets do not yet meet minimum reporting standards, said the latest Net Zero Tracker report.

Europe is doing best in terms of the proportion of companies with net-zero targets, with 58%, compared with 36% in North America and 20% in East Asia.

But a February report from the NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch warned that net-zero and carbon-neutral pledges can hide a multitude of sins, and there is a need for more information to allow consumers to work out which amount to little more than “green-washing”.

The analysis looked at 25 of the world’s largest corporations, many of them household names – from Amazon to IKEA, Carrefour and Google – and found their net-zero pledges amounted to future emissions reductions, often decades from now, of an average of just 40%.

The problems identified range from a lack of specific emissions reduction targets to vagueness around which parts of the supply chain are covered and the use of carbon credits to offset company emissions instead of efforts to cut them. 

HOW DO YOU SET A CREDIBLE NET-ZERO TARGET?

The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the 2050 Pathways Platform - which work with governments and others on their climate commitments - say cutting emissions within national boundaries should be the priority, with efforts to offset what remains considered only after that.

Currently, only a few governments explicitly aim to use offset credits outside of their jurisdiction to meet their net zero targets or reserve the right to do so: 17 out of 128 countries; 15 out of 115 states and regions; and 39 out of 235 cities, according to Net Zero Tracker.

The share is far higher for corporations at nearly 40%, especially among those targeting net-zero emissions for earlier dates such as 2030. Less than 2% of companies have explicitly ruled out their use, leaving close to 60% that have not specified whether or not they plan to rely on offsetting.

To be credible, net-zero targets should cover all greenhouse gases, including methane, and all economic sectors, as well as international aviation and shipping, WRI says.

Plans for net-zero emissions should be achieved by 2050 or earlier, with the highest-emitting countries doing the most, fastest - and they should be crafted in consultation with those they will affect and clearly communicated, WRI recommends.

The steps needed to get to net zero should be incorporated now into ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets in national plans and reflected in everyday decision-making, to avoid new investments in high-carbon technologies and infrastructure, according to WRI researchers.

Company net-zero targets often cover very different sources of emissions, with different baselines, and can be challenging to compare, though the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has released guidelines to help remedy that.

This year, U.N. chief António Guterres launched a high-level expert group to help develop stronger and clearer standards for net-zero pledges by businesses, investors and local governments, as well as to verify progress towards them and accelerate their implementation through new rules and regulations.

The U.N.-led "Race to Zero" campaign, launched on World Environment Day in June 2020, also unites businesses, cities and other organisations that aim by around mid-century to cut their planet-heating emissions to net zero.

With a growing focus on the robustness of those commitments, Race to Zero members must meet stringent criteria, including submitting a plan in line with climate science and setting interim targets to reduce emissions.

This explainer was updated on June 13, 2022, with new information on the growth in net-zero targets from the latest Net Zero Tracker analysis.

Related stories:

IN FOCUS - Achieving net-zero emissions

Consumers left in the dark as corporate net-zero plans fail to add up

More net than zero: Do carbon-cutting promises add up for the climate?

Meaningless or sensible? Net zero by 2050 divides climate community

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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Global Zero: The Fate of Nuclear Weapons

global zero essay

Introductio n

Tweaking Thomas Hobbes’s philosophical underpinnings, COVID-19 has made man’s life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.   Many scholars argue we are at rock bottom and no worse could be the case than this. Let me give a small dossier, lately, in the USA’s Executive committee on findings on adherence to compliance report with  Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Agreements and Commitment 2020 has   accused China of violating the norms of Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) by conducting a low yield nuclear test in 2019 at its Lop Nur  testing site. The US also claims that China has violated the “zero yield “standard raising the risk of nuclear dangers.

Fig1.1 Lop Nur testing site PRC

Such events of nuclear proliferation have been steadily growing over the past few decades. States engaging in the arms race constitute a greater threat of using weapons if push comes to shove resulting in wiping out the entire human race within hours. No Nuclear weapon possessor is willing to give up or reduce its nuclear arsenal. This somewhere tells that attaining nuclear capabilities is like crossing a Rubicon, once the state possesses its disarmament becomes onerous. This may be because of the great power status which comes along with the weapons. These advances and practices not only hinder world peace but also procrastinates the goal of universal disarmament.

In the Atomic Age, the spread of nuclear weapon technology continues to be an important issue. Globalisation and the end of the cold war have posed complex challenges like the growth of nuclear energy, nuclear safety and security and problems with nuclear strategy and nuclear terrorism to the world. This puts the Nuclear Non- proliferation treaty (NPT) into jeopardy which might ultimately suffer a slow and consequential death. Therefore, the fate of nuclear weapons remains dubious.

Global Zero

Global Zero is a term used to refer to worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. It is also used in connection with de-alerting nuclear weapons and the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons.

Also, a Global Zero Movement has gained traction in 2007 when four senior statesmen of the cold war, subsequently nicknamed as the ‘Four Horsemen’ – George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry wrote an editorial at Wall Street Journal. They asserted that the dependency on nuclear weapons for sustained security is becoming ‘increasingly hazardous and decreasing effective…unless urgent new actions are taken’. They also called for ‘USA to work with the leaders of the countries in the possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise’.

Global Zero plays a key role of a catalyst for bold leadership towards wiping out nuclear weapons. It is actively working with leaders, experts, artists and cultural icons, peace ambassadors with a goal of bringing about a holistic understanding and applies necessary pressure to bring a world without nuclear weapons within reach.

The Nth Nation Problem

The increase in the number of Nuclear States is commonly called the Nth nation problem. The increase in the number of Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS) is called horizontal proliferation. In contrast, increase in the existing nuclear capability of a state is called vertical proliferation.  The assumption is that when once state possesses nuclear weapons it tends to create a domino effect, which makes other states to possess the same. Therefore, it is highly apprehended that more and more states possessing nuclear weapons would be more inclined towards using them. It could be very well seen in American acquisition of NW which has led the Soviet Union to follow the trail.

A peculiar trend of vertical proliferation for  regime survival  could also be seen in North Korea’s case of expanding the thermonuclear capabilities which are designed for bargaining and sabre-rattling.

Destructive Effects

It is arduous to speculate an actual nuclear conflict. But some have predicted the “rate” of one million dead per megaton in an isolated explosion. One nuclear weapon is sufficient to level a major city in the world. Even a small number of weapons aimed with precision might cause tremendous damage and destruction.

A strategic nuclear war is likely to cripple both nuclear capable belligerents economically, socially, morally & psychologically. The long-time effects will demand more stabilisation with excessive monetary investments in reconstructing and recovering society.

Radioactive fallout could be one serious problem in countries adjacent to the belligerent countries, and during the decades after a major nuclear war, the fallout could take millions of lives worldwide.

Besides radioactive fallout, the global consequence of a large nuclear war on the world economy and on vital functions of the international community would be immense. The food insecurity, ecological outcomes, widespread famines, massive deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. Even the non-belligerent countries have to face the effect of this turmoil.

These could result in domestic civil wars, political instability, military coup, upheavals rise of authoritarian regimes, etc.

Threat to World Peace and Peace Movements

A threat to world peace increased considerably after the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has made the world gloomy and uncertain. The notion of the devastating effects of nuclear weapons shudders the world with anxiety and apprehension.

The devastating effects of nuclear weapons have frightened the people of both big and small countries. The threat to world peace has made many people and the world restless, alienated, mentally sick and tormented. To put an end to this agony and pain they have been agitating hard to make their voices echo deeply into the society. In many countries around the world, several groups are opposing nuclear weapons by launching peace movements. They were able to move the conscience of many people and made them aware of the potential grave danger that these weapons posed to them and the rest of the world.

Experts Speak

Many scholars argue that nuclear weapons have its own impact on national power. Nuclear capability has diffused and punctured the traditional definition of national power. It has reshaped the great power status to a nuclear proficient state.

The traditional factors like territory, population, industrial facilities, etc. are no more regarded as the elements of national power.

Structural realist Kenneth Waltz articulates that Nuclear Weapons: The more the better . He furthered that the spread of nuclear weapons is slow and gradual which will contribute to nuclear stability. He further makes a point that the likelihood of war decreases deterrent and defensive capability increases. Nuclear weapons make wars hard to start. Scott Sagan, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, in contrast, argues that the more the nuclear weapons the worst because of the common biases, inflexible routines, and parochial interests – display organisational behaviours that likely to lead to deterrence failures and accidental wars. Sam Nunn, former US Senator, compares nuclear disarmament to a mountain, with the summit beyond the current grasp and perhaps even out of sight. Manpreet Sethi, a senior fellow at Centre for Air Power Studies argues that a global acceptance to No First Use (NFU) could be one significant step by all nuclear-armed states. If every country was to commit not to be the first to use the weapon, there would be no nuclear use. Such commitments would be especially helpful during times of crisis.

There are a number of associated debates and perceptions about nuclear weapons, their possession, command, control and use. Also, as the grey area of uncertainty exists with the weapons, scholars, academics and government agencies draw facts on the basis of speculations and past experience because the notion of one size fits all doesn’t apply to nuclear weapons.

Global Zero is the key to achieve sustainable peace and universal disarmament. Although near-term prospects are dim. To achieve a Nuclear Zero, state parties must bring the consensus in a phased manner.  Also, all we need is a reinvigorated nuclear order by bringing out a lex communis  (a common law) which emerging global powers need to create by a renewed consensus  that addresses the challenges to the non-proliferation order. Painting a broader picture, this new consensus must include a widened circle of nuclear non-proliferation, changing power dynamics, a renewed and more credible commitment to eliminate nuclear dangers, and strategic dialogues to reduce risk and mitigate conflict among nuclear weapons possessors.

A sustainable nuclear order for the 21st century must also accommodate changing global power dynamics. Based on economic projections, China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia are anticipated to be among the top powers by 2050.  India and China expected to surpass the United States by GDP in the coming decades. Emerging powers should be invited and encouraged to assume leadership roles within a renewed order stating the horrors and dangers of nuclear weapons. A similar echo came in the late 80’s when former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was laying foundations of the ‘Action Plan for Global disarmament’ in UNGA:

“It is a dangerous delusion to believe that nuclear weapons have bought us peace. It is true that, in the past four decades, parts of the world have experienced an absence of war. But the mere absence of war is not a durable peace.”

What the state parties need is a strong political will and a holistic understanding that a nuclear weapon free world will be a much durable one. A sequence of steps towards a new non-nuclear order and achieving complete disarmament in a phased manner is a need of the hour to achieve Global Zero and decide the fate of the weapons.

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YaleGlobal Online

The history of zero.

Zero image

From placeholder to the driver of calculus, zero has crossed the greatest minds and most diverse borders since it was born many centuries ago. Today, zero is perhaps the most pervasive global symbol known. In the story of zero, something can be made out of nothing.

Zero, zip, zilch - how often has a question been answered by one of these words? Countless, no doubt. Yet behind this seemingly simple answer conveying nothing lays the story of an idea that took many centuries to develop, many countries to cross, and many minds to comprehend. Understanding and working with zero is the basis of our world today; without zero we would lack calculus, financial accounting, the ability to make arithmetic computations quickly, and, especially in today’s connected world, computers. The story of zero is the story of an idea that has aroused the imagination of great minds across the globe.

When anyone thinks of one hundred, two hundred, or seven thousand the image in his or her mind is of a digit followed by a few zeros. The zero functions as a placeholder; that is, three zeroes denotes that there are seven thousands, rather than only seven hundreds. If we were missing one zero, that would drastically change the amount. Just imagine having one zero erased (or added) to your salary! Yet, the number system we use today - Arabic, though it in fact came originally from India - is relatively new. For centuries people marked quantities with a variety of symbols and figures, although it was awkward to perform the simplest arithmetic calculations with these number systems.

The Sumerians were the first to develop a counting system to keep an account of their stock of goods - cattle, horses, and donkeys, for example. The Sumerian system was positional; that is, the placement of a particular symbol relative to others denoted its value. The Sumerian system was handed down to the Akkadians around 2500 BC and then to the Babylonians in 2000 BC. It was the Babylonians who first conceived of a mark to signify that a number was absent from a column; just as 0 in 1025 signifies that there are no hundreds in that number. Although zero’s Babylonian ancestor was a good start, it would still be centuries before the symbol as we know it appeared.

The renowned mathematicians among the Ancient Greeks, who learned the fundamentals of their math from the Egyptians, did not have a name for zero, nor did their system feature a placeholder as did the Babylonian. They may have pondered it, but there is no conclusive evidence to say the symbol even existed in their language. It was the Indians who began to understand zero both as a symbol and as an idea.

Brahmagupta, around 650 AD, was the first to formalize arithmetic operations using zero. He used dots underneath numbers to indicate a zero. These dots were alternately referred to as ‘sunya’, which means empty, or ‘kha’, which means place. Brahmagupta wrote standard rules for reaching zero through addition and subtraction as well as the results of operations with zero. The only error in his rules was division by zero, which would have to wait for Isaac Newton and G.W. Leibniz to tackle.

But it would still be a few centuries before zero reached Europe. First, the great Arabian voyagers would bring the texts of Brahmagupta and his colleagues back from India along with spices and other exotic items. Zero reached Baghdad by 773 AD and would be developed in the Middle East by Arabian mathematicians who would base their numbers on the Indian system. In the ninth century, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khowarizmi was the first to work on equations that equaled zero, or algebra as it has come to be known. He also developed quick methods for multiplying and dividing numbers known as algorithms (a corruption of his name). Al-Khowarizmi called zero ‘sifr’, from which our cipher is derived. By 879 AD, zero was written almost as we now know it, an oval - but in this case smaller than the other numbers. And thanks to the conquest of Spain by the Moors, zero finally reached Europe; by the middle of the twelfth century, translations of Al-Khowarizmi’s work had weaved their way to England.

The Italian mathematician, Fibonacci, built on Al-Khowarizmi’s work with algorithms in his book Liber Abaci, or “Abacus book,” in 1202. Until that time, the abacus had been the most prevalent tool to perform arithmetic operations. Fibonacci’s developments quickly gained notice by Italian merchants and German bankers, especially the use of zero. Accountants knew their books were balanced when the positive and negative amounts of their assets and liabilities equaled zero. But governments were still suspicious of Arabic numerals because of the ease in which it was possible to change one symbol into another. Though outlawed, merchants continued to use zero in encrypted messages, thus the derivation of the word cipher, meaning code, from the Arabic sifr.

The next great mathematician to use zero was Rene Descartes, the founder of the Cartesian coordinate system. As anyone who has had to graph a triangle or a parabola knows, Descartes’ origin is (0,0). Although zero was now becoming more common, the developers of calculus, Newton and Lebiniz, would make the final step in understanding zero.

Adding, subtracting, and multiplying by zero are relatively simple operations. But division by zero has confused even great minds. How many times does zero go into ten? Or, how many non-existent apples go into two apples? The answer is indeterminate, but working with this concept is the key to calculus. For example, when one drives to the store, the speed of the car is never constant - stoplights, traffic jams, and different speed limits all cause the car to speed up or slow down. But how would one find the speed of the car at one particular instant? This is where zero and calculus enter the picture.

If you wanted to know your speed at a particular instant, you would have to measure the change in speed that occurs over a set period of time. By making that set period smaller and smaller, you could reasonably estimate the speed at that instant. In effect, as you make the change in time approach zero, the ratio of the change in speed to the change in time becomes similar to some number over zero - the same problem that stumped Brahmagupta.

In the 1600’s, Newton and Leibniz solved this problem independently and opened the world to tremendous possibilities. By working with numbers as they approach zero, calculus was born without which we wouldn’t have physics, engineering, and many aspects of economics and finance.

In the twenty-first century zero is so familiar that to talk about it seems like much ado about nothing. But it is precisely understanding and working with this nothing that has allowed civilization to progress. The development of zero across continents, centuries, and minds has made it one of the greatest accomplishments of human society. Because math is a global language, and calculus its crowning achievement, zero exists and is used everywhere. But, like its function as a symbol and a concept meant to denote absence, zero may still seem like nothing at all. Yet, recall the fears over Y2K and zero no longer seems like a tale told by an idiot.

References: 1. Kaplan, Robert (2000). The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero. New York: Oxford University Press.

2. Seife, Charles (2000). Zero: The Biography

Rights: © Copyright Yale Center for the Study of Globalization 2002

A glacier calving makes a huge splash.

Atlantic Ocean is headed for a tipping point − once melting glaciers shut down the Gulf Stream, we would see extreme climate change within decades, study shows

global zero essay

Postdoctoral Researcher in Climate Physics, Utrecht University

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Professor of Physics, Utrecht University

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Climate Model Specialist, Utrecht University

Disclosure statement

René van Westen receives funding from the European Research Council (ERC-AdG project 101055096, TAOC).

Henk A. Dijkstra receives funding from the European Research Council (ERC-AdG project 101055096, TAOC, PI: Dijkstra).

Michael Kliphuis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Superstorms, abrupt climate shifts and New York City frozen in ice. That’s how the blockbuster Hollywood movie “ The Day After Tomorrow ” depicted an abrupt shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation and the catastrophic consequences.

While Hollywood’s vision was over the top, the 2004 movie raised a serious question: If global warming shuts down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is crucial for carrying heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes, how abrupt and severe would the climate changes be?

Twenty years after the movie’s release, we know a lot more about the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation. Instruments deployed in the ocean starting in 2004 show that the Atlantic Ocean circulation has observably slowed over the past two decades, possibly to its weakest state in almost a millennium . Studies also suggest that the circulation has reached a dangerous tipping point in the past that sent it into a precipitous, unstoppable decline, and that it could hit that tipping point again as the planet warms and glaciers and ice sheets melt.

In a new study using the latest generation of Earth’s climate models, we simulated the flow of fresh water until the ocean circulation reached that tipping point.

The results showed that the circulation could fully shut down within a century of hitting the tipping point, and that it’s headed in that direction. If that happened, average temperatures would drop by several degrees in North America, parts of Asia and Europe, and people would see severe and cascading consequences around the world.

We also discovered a physics-based early warning signal that can alert the world when the Atlantic Ocean circulation is nearing its tipping point.

The ocean’s conveyor belt

Ocean currents are driven by winds, tides and water density differences .

In the Atlantic Ocean circulation, the relatively warm and salty surface water near the equator flows toward Greenland. During its journey it crosses the Caribbean Sea, loops up into the Gulf of Mexico, and then flows along the U.S. East Coast before crossing the Atlantic.

Two illustrations show how the AMOC looks today and its weaker state in the future

This current, also known as the Gulf Stream, brings heat to Europe. As it flows northward and cools, the water mass becomes heavier. By the time it reaches Greenland, it starts to sink and flow southward. The sinking of water near Greenland pulls water from elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and the cycle repeats, like a conveyor belt .

Too much fresh water from melting glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet can dilute the saltiness of the water, preventing it from sinking, and weaken this ocean conveyor belt . A weaker conveyor belt transports less heat northward and also enables less heavy water to reach Greenland, which further weakens the conveyor belt’s strength. Once it reaches the tipping point , it shuts down quickly.

What happens to the climate at the tipping point?

The existence of a tipping point was first noticed in an overly simplified model of the Atlantic Ocean circulation in the early 1960s . Today’s more detailed climate models indicate a continued slowing of the conveyor belt’s strength under climate change. However, an abrupt shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean circulation appeared to be absent in these climate models.

This is where our study comes in. We performed an experiment with a detailed climate model to find the tipping point for an abrupt shutdown by slowly increasing the input of fresh water.

We found that once it reaches the tipping point, the conveyor belt shuts down within 100 years. The heat transport toward the north is strongly reduced, leading to abrupt climate shifts.

The result: Dangerous cold in the North

Regions that are influenced by the Gulf Stream receive substantially less heat when the circulation stops. This cools the North American and European continents by a few degrees.

The European climate is much more influenced by the Gulf Stream than other regions. In our experiment, that meant parts of the continent changed at more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) per decade – far faster than today’s global warming of about 0.36 F (0.2 C) per decade. We found that parts of Norway would experience temperature drops of more than 36 F (20 C). On the other hand, regions in the Southern Hemisphere would warm by a few degrees.

Two maps show US and Europe both cooling by several degrees if the AMOC stops.

These temperature changes develop over about 100 years. That might seem like a long time, but on typical climate time scales, it is abrupt.

The conveyor belt shutting down would also affect sea level and precipitation patterns, which can push other ecosystems closer to their tipping points . For example, the Amazon rainforest is vulnerable to declining precipitation . If its forest ecosystem turned to grassland, the transition would release carbon to the atmosphere and result in the loss of a valuable carbon sink, further accelerating climate change.

The Atlantic circulation has slowed significantly in the distant past . During glacial periods when ice sheets that covered large parts of the planet were melting, the influx of fresh water slowed the Atlantic circulation, triggering huge climate fluctuations.

So, when will we see this tipping point?

The big question – when will the Atlantic circulation reach a tipping point – remains unanswered. Observations don’t go back far enough to provide a clear result. While a recent study suggested that the conveyor belt is rapidly approaching its tipping point , possibly within a few years, these statistical analyses made several assumptions that give rise to uncertainty.

Instead, we were able to develop a physics-based and observable early warning signal involving the salinity transport at the southern boundary of the Atlantic Ocean. Once a threshold is reached, the tipping point is likely to follow in one to four decades.

A line chart of circulation strength shows a quick drop-off after the amount of freshwater in the ocean hits a tipping point.

The climate impacts from our study underline the severity of such an abrupt conveyor belt collapse. The temperature, sea level and precipitation changes will severely affect society, and the climate shifts are unstoppable on human time scales.

It might seem counterintuitive to worry about extreme cold as the planet warms, but if the main Atlantic Ocean circulation shuts down from too much meltwater pouring in, that’s the risk ahead.

This article was updated on Feb. 11, 2024, to fix a typo: The experiment found temperatures in parts of Europe changed by more than 5 F per decade.

  • Climate change
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  • Extreme weather
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Climate models
  • Greenland ice sheet
  • Ocean circulation

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Global Zero: world without nuclear weapons

February 4, 2011 Essay , February 2011 Leave a comment

It is clear that if we don’t achieve ‘Global Zero, our planet is always at risk, of being converted into a Ground Zero.

Man has achieved tremendous progress in developing scientific technology for the welfare and well-being of humanity, but simultaneously, he has also developed weapons for his own destruction. To acquire power’ the most flagrant of all passions’ he created weapons including explosive, chemical, biological and nuclear. Among them, the nuclear weapons are the most destructive causing mass destruction. Though, these have been used once in history during the World War-II, these have created a perpetual fear of annihilation among all humans. Now, with the evolving of a multi-cultural globalised world, there is an increase in momentum to develop a consensus for achieving Global Zero- elimination of all nuclear weapons. To succeed in this initiative, the need is to sit together, contemplate, devise a strategy and agree to divert this capability from weapons to welfare of humanity. The most resounding argument, generating urge to achieve this surpassable task lies in the brief history of apocalyptic perils of nuclear weapons.

The perils of atomic weapons were manifest as the two cities of Japan were wreaked when the bombs were dropped on them. In Hiroshima, some 75,000 people were immediately killed by blast, fire and radiation. Another 70,000 died by the end of 1945.

Three days later in Nagasaki, plutonium bomb killed about 40,000 people immediately, another 75,000 died by the end of 1945. Five days after Nagasaki’s flattening, Japan surrendered. But the impact didn’t stop there. Thousands people died in following years due to radiation. Tens of thousands became disabled. Not only the people present at the time suffered but the ‘unborn’ as well. Thousands others were born with deformities and genetic disorders due to which successive generations have suffered.

The need to eliminate nuclear weapons is not only because these can be used for destruction in war but also because they pose equal danger in times of peace. There have been ‘Close Calls’ to annihilation in various occasions. [In 1995] President Boris Yeltsin was informed that a nuclear missile was speeding towards the heart of Russia. Russian nuclear forces, already on hair-trigger alert, were put in even higher alert. Russian policy called for a ‘launch on warning. The fate of the planet hung in the balance. Yeltsin wisely waited. And within those moments, the alarm declared false. ‘An unimaginable nuclear disaster had barely been avoided’ declared America’s Defense Monitor, Center for Defence Information, December 26, 1999.

Another, important incident took place in the US on August 31, 2007.  Air Force crew loaded six live nuclear warheads onto a 8-52 Bomber and flew from ‘Minot Air Force Base’ in North Dakota to ‘Barksdak Air Force Base’ in cruising over the country’s heartland (Around 15 states). Each warhead was 10 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In analysis report, America’s Defence science Board (DSB) revealed that ‘six of the planet’s most powerful weapons were missing and no one noticed until they had landed in Louisiana after flight of 3 ½ hours.’ The report concluded that ‘human error was at the heart of the incident.

This incident underscores the risk of accidental nuclear explosion threat due to ‘human error’ even in the country of its origin and in the ‘peace times’. It is important to note that this incident occurred in the US, which claims to employ world’s best safety standards for nuclear weapons. While the US itself keeps expressing concern over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

wisdom calls for elimination of all nuclear weapons in order to make the future of humanity’ our generation and our future generations ‘ safe and secure.

Moreover, the presence of nuclear weapons in some states provides reason and pretext for other ambitious nations to acquire the same status. This unwise race has itself caused devastating effects on economy and human development, particularly in developing countries.

One of the major world powers, the USSR too, collapsed under the heavy burden of extraordinary defence spending on economy. The developing countries like India, Pakistan, and North Korea also joined the race. They did succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons but their poor population is suffering from abject poverty. A country like Pakistan, which is merely surviving at the edge of economic insolvency, could gain much economic growth, had the resources been utilised for the welfare of people. Iranians are bearing the sanctions imposed by western powers through the UN for pursuing nuclear technology, which according to them, is aimed at acquiring weapons.

Besides, the argument to possess nuclear weapons to maintain deterrence capability has also lost its ground. More the states acquire ‘nukes’, more the risk of their use builds-up. Moreover, the presence of nukes always poses risk of slipping into the hands of terrorists. Admiral Noel Gayler, a former commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command of US Navy, asks, ‘Is difference of nuclear weapons still possible?’  He answers, ‘No. He also questions, ‘Does nuclear disarmament imperil our security? He answers, ‘No, it enhances it.’ As human ‘beings are fallible, deterrence is not a perfect system. It can be failed by human error, accident, miscalculation or simply miscommunication. ‘Does it make sense to risk the future of our cities and even the human species on an unprovable theory?’ David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

This is why, fortunately, the initiative of achieving peace of the world without nuclear weapons is gaining support among both the senior military and the political leaders of the world. The increasing number of leaders have realised what Abraham Lincoln said, ‘We must think anew and act anew. Recently many world leaders have expressed willingness to move towards this goal. British Prime Minister Gorden Brown said in March 2008 that the UK was ready to work for ‘a world that is free from nuclear weapons. On December 5, 2008, Nicholas Sarkozy, the French President, while holding EU Presidency, wrote a letter to UN General Secretary, outlining an EU plan to advance global progress toward nuclear disarmament.

Negotiations between Washington and Moscow should start to cut back nuclear stockpiles to minimum. According to moderate estimates, the US and Russia have about 26000 of total 27000 weapons in the world.
  • Massive reduction in Russian-US arsenal.
  • Complete elimination to zero by all states.
  • Establishing verification system to keep check.
  • International management of the fuel cycle.

There are many positive indicators which indicate why this goal is achievable. First; there is a strong historical support. Throughout the nuclear age, even at the height of the Cold War, leaders foresaw a day when the world could be free of nukes. In 1986, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan agreed that: ‘A nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought. ‘In 1999, Chinese President Jiang Zemin stated: ‘There is no reason why nuclear weapons should not be comprehensively banned and completely destroyed.

Second; as Jiang Zemin had emphasised in his statement, ‘What it takes to reach this objective is no more than a strong political will. ‘The world leaders agree with the idea of a world without nukes and have the means to achieve it. What they only need is the ‘Political will. Some analysts argue that even if the major world powers agree to eliminate nuclear weapons, country like Iran might not agree to abandon its ambition. Though Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions is a fallacy, there is a strong reason why Iran would follow the course. If there is growing support by nuclear powers and public opinion worldwide, I think it becomes harder for any government, including Iran, to cross that barrier, said Richard Burt, who was Washington’s Chief negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks in the early 1990s. Naturally, no country can afford to be on the one side and whole of the world on the other.

Third; there is a strong support among majority of the people around the world. A poll of 21 countries conducted by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), USA, shows that global public opinion is overwhelmingly in favours of an international agreement for eliminating all nuclear weapons. 76 per cent of respondents, across all countries polled, favour such an agreement. As the public opinion tends to direct the policies of governments, it is likely that the leaders would come to the table.

Fourth; at this time particular, there is a new and great opportunity. US President Barak Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have signalled to work on nuclear disarmament. The former declared, ‘This is the moment to begin the works of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons. Similarly, Russian Prime Minister Putin expressed in a speech in September 2008 to ‘Close this Pandora’s Box.

This new and unprecedented political support from the heads of the world’s most important governments’ for zero nuclear weapons has made this goal possible. This moment offers both the possibilities and dangers. Possibilities; because of new leadership in the US which appears to support the goal of nuclear abolition. Dangers; because, if this moment passes without action, then the nuclear-race could quickly gather pace with many more states acquiring weapons and the risk of weapons falling into the hands of terrorists would increase.

This opportunity must be seized. It is the time for a new beginning to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. This moment calls for embracing possibilities and dispelling dangers. The phased and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons is possible. Here are some of the steps needed to achieve this goal:

Firstly; the ratification of Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The NPT, which was sponsored by the US, UK and the USSR, was aimed ‘to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapon technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament. The treaty was signed by 187 states and was ratified in 1975. However, the US, its sponsors, did not ratify it. Other four countries which have not signed it are: India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba. Similarly, CTBT, introduced in 1995, has not been ratified by many states, including the US. It is strongly felt that if the US ratifies these treaties, others would follow the course. ‘Early the US ratification would do much to encourage the few remaining states to follow suit, wrote David Miliband, UK’s former Foreign Secretary, in The Washington Post on December 8, 2008.

Secondly; negotiations between Washington and Moscow should start to cut back nuclear stockpiles to minimum. According to moderate estimates, the US and Russia have about 26000 of total 27000 weapons in the world. As both these states possess largest stockpiles’ 96 per cent of all the nuclear weapons in the world’ they should reduce their arsenal in the first step. ‘Process needs to start with American and Russian leaderships’ argues Richard Burt.

This is an absolutely insensible approach to accumulate that much big arsenal that fraction of which can destroy the whole world. ‘When a country can be destroyed by a dozen weapons, its own possession of thousands of weapons gains no security’ says Admiral Noel Gayler. The huge possession of nukes itself puts larger responsibility on the US and Russia to initiate the process of disarmaments up to minimum level. The successful conclusion of ‘START NEW’ between both powers strengthens the possibility of reaching an agreement on nuclear disarmament.

Thirdly; following the reductions by the US and Russia, the rest of the countries can be brought on board for complete abolition of nukes. It would not be a difficult task. Once the powerful countries lead the course, rest will follow them. Perhaps others seem poised to welcome such move. The willingness of China, the UK and France has already been mentioned. The two South Asian countries India and Pakistan are also ready to shun the nukes. Last June, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, backed the same goal, saying that: ‘The only effective form of nuclear disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons is global disarmament. President Zardari has also talked of ‘nuclear weapon-free South Asia. North Korea is already on-board in six-party talks and has also committed to abolish nuclear weapons for economic incentives. The only country which has stayed silent is Israel which is undeclared nuclear state. But given the leverage, Washington enjoys over it, Israel will have to be part of the process.

Once this process sets in momentum, the weapons could be delivered to a single and common remote place in oceans for dismantling under the supervision of skilled scientists. The nuclear material could be returned to the donors for use in the energy sector or disposal.

Lastly, having achieved the complete and verified elimination of nuclear weapons from the world, all the countries will have to conclude a joint treaty at the UN platform banning any development of nuclear weapons and technology. As Queen Noor of Jordan told BBC, ‘We have to work on de-legitimising the status of nuclear weapons.’ This is vital for making the elimination of nukes irreversible. This would require establishing many mechanisms to constitute an eventual regime for overseeing the global ban.

It is also important to realise that advantage of use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is too great to be ignored. The NPT also underscores ‘to promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy’. And, every country has the right to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But given the element of conflict in international affairs and atmosphere of mistrust, all the countries can’t be trusted as reliable for not pursuing the ambitions of acquiring nuclear weapons again. This situation warrants a new approach, which would allow the use of nuclear energy and deny the weapons technology.

The Global Zero initiative envisages ‘international management of the fuel cycle to prevent future development of nuclear weapons. ‘An agreement on a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) led system that would help states wishing to develop a civil nuclear energy industry to do so without increasing the risk of nuclear weapon proliferation’ says David Miliband. Creation of such international fuel bank would also end the conflicts in the world like Iran Nuclear Issue. This proposal was also forwarded by IAEA’s former head Muhammad Elbradi as early as in 2003, that: ‘all production and processing of nuclear material be under international control. This novel idea has attracted the EU and an American billionaire ‘Warren Buffett’ for financing the project.

In this way, the world could not only be safe from destruction and the humanity from annihilation, but the tremendous energy potential of the nuclear resources could also be utilised for the welfare of people. The resources that go into weapons would help keep people safe and healthy and to give them opportunities. Not only the world is facing energy crisis due to depletion of fossil fuels, but with their emissions our environment is being damaged severely. Nuclear power possesses tremendous energy and simultaneously it is clean energy. It is important for health purposes as it is used in the treatment of many diseases, including cancer. Its use in agriculture enhances crop yield which would help mitigate the food crisis.

Global Zero offers two’ pronged benefits: achieving safety by eliminating nuclear weapons and to achieve prosperity by using nuclear energy. The leaders of world have the greatest moral responsibility to seize the opportunity for the welfare of the living and the future generations of mankind. As Benazir Bhutto said, ‘We owe it to our children to build a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation.

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Sustainable development goal: zero hunger.

More than 800 million people around the world are hungry. The United Nations’s second Sustainable Development Goal, Zero Hunger, aims to end world hunger by 2030.

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In 2012, at the United Nations (UN) Conferences on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, world representatives created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The purpose of creating SDGs was “to produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world,” according to the UN Development Programme. There are 17 SDGs that the UN hopes to meet by 2030, the second of which is Zero Hunger . Hunger is not caused by food shortage alone, but by a combination of natural, social, and political forces. Currently, natural resources that are necessary for human survival—like freshwater, the ocean, forests, soils, and more—are dwindling. Climate change is contributing to the degradation of precious resources, as severe weather events, like droughts, become more common and affect harvests, leading to less food for human consumption. Poverty and inequality are also two drivers of hunger, affecting who can buy food, as well as what kind of food, and how much, is available. Hunger is also a product of war and conflict. During periods of unrest, a country's economy and infrastructure can become severely damaged. This negatively affects civilian access to food by either driving up food prices, interfering with food production, or forcing people from their homes. Some governments and military groups have even used starvation as a war tactic, cutting off civilians from their food supply. In 2018, the UN declared this tactic a war crime . With these problems in mind, the world needs sustainable solutions to adequately feed each person on the planet. Right now, there are around 815 million people who are hungry. This number is only expected to increase as the years go on; the UN estimates that two billion more people will be undernourished by 2050. The Zero Hunger SDG focuses on finding sustainable solutions to stop world hunger. The goals of the Zero Hunger initiative are to end hunger and make sure that enough nutritious foods are available to people by 2030. Other aspects of the goal include ending all forms of malnutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture . One environmental scientist that is working to alleviate world hunger is Jennifer Anne Burney. She is a National Geographic Explorer and associate professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California at San Diego. Concentrating on ensuring food security for the world as well as limiting climate change, Burney designs and uses technologies to improve food and nutrition security.

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How are computers scoring STAAR essays? Texas superintendents, lawmaker want answers

Educators and legislators are concerned about transparency and a spike in high schoolers scoring zero points on written answers..

Texas superintendents want answers from the state education commissioner Mike Morath about...

By Talia Richman

11:10 AM on Feb 15, 2024 CST — Updated at 8:00 PM on Feb 15, 2024 CST

Texas superintendents — and at least one lawmaker — want answers from the state education commissioner about how computers are scoring STAAR essays.

The Texas Education Agency quietly debuted a new system for examining student answers on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, in December . Roughly three-quarters of written responses are scored by a computer rather than a person.

“This is surprising news to me as a member of the House Public Education Committee, as I do not recall ever receiving notice of this novel and experimental method for grading high-stakes, STAAR tests,” Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, wrote in a recent letter to Commissioner Mike Morath, which was also shared with The Dallas Morning News .

Superintendents across the state also were caught off guard until recently. Many school districts already are suing the state over changes to the academic accountability system that’s largely based on STAAR performance.

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Related: Computers scoring Texas students’ STAAR essay answers, state officials say

The News reported on the rollout of computer scoring Wednesday.

The use of computers to score essays “was never communicated to school districts; yet this seems to be an unprecedented change that a ‘heads up’ would be reasonably warranted,” HD Chambers, director of the Texas School Alliance, wrote to Morath in a letter shared with The News .

TEA spokesman Jake Kobersky said in a statement that the agency is developing a comprehensive presentation for educators, explaining the changes in detail and addressing outstanding questions.

He added that the agency alerted the House Public Education Committee in August 2022 that it was pursuing automated scoring.

The final bulletpoint on an 18-page slideshow read: “TEA is pursuing automation for scoring where appropriate to reduce costs while ensuring reliability. Full human scoring is not possible under item-level computer-adaptive (B), and full human scoring with no automation under the current system would require at least $15-20M more per year.”

The new scoring method rolled out amid a broader STAAR redesign. The revamped test — which launched last year — has a cap on multiple choice questions and essays at every grade level. State officials say it would cost millions more to have only humans score the test.

The “automated scoring engines” are programmed to emulate how humans would assess an essay, and they don’t learn beyond a single question. The computer determines how to score written answers after analyzing thousands of students’ responses that were previously scored by people.

Among the district leaders’ biggest concerns is a huge spike in low scores among high schoolers under the new system.

Roughly eight in 10 written responses on the most recent English II End of Course exam received zero points this fall.

For the spring test — the first iteration of the redesigned test, but scored only by humans — roughly a quarter of responses scored zero points in the same subject.

Members of the Texas School Alliance , which represents 46 districts, “examined their individual district results and found shockingly consistent scoring differences.”

Chris Rozunick, the director of the state’s assessment development division, previously told The News that she understands why people connect the spike in zeroes to the rollout of automated scoring based on the timing. But she insists that the two are unrelated.

Many students who take STAAR in the fall are “re-testers” who did not meet grade level on a previous test attempt. Spring testers tend to perform better, according to agency officials who were asked to explain the spike in low scores in the fall.

“It really is the population of testers much more than anything else,” Rozunick said.

Kobersky added that, under the previous STAAR design, a score of zero was reserved for “unscorable responses,” meaning the question was left blank or written in a nonsensical way. The redesigned test rubric allows for a zero both if a response is unscorable or if it’s the value of the response as determined by the scorer, he said.

Some district leaders requested the state education agency provide them images of students’ responses so that they could “better understand what led to the significant increase in the number of zeroes, and most importantly how to help students write their responses” to receive better scores.

“Each request has been denied,” Chambers wrote in his letter to Morath.

Kobersky said fall questions are not released because they can be reused for other tests.

TEA officials say a technical report, with a detailed overview of the system, will be available later this year.

STAAR scores are of tremendous importance to district leaders, families and communities. Schools are graded on the state’s academic accountability system largely based on how students perform on these standardized tests.

Related: What are Texas’ A-F school grades, and why do they matter?

“As with all aspects of the STAAR test and the A-F accountability system, it is important that there is transparency, accuracy and fairness in these high-stakes results,” Hinojosa wrote.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Talia Richman

Talia Richman , Staff writer . Talia is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News Education Lab. A Dallas native, she attended Richardson High School and graduated from the University of Maryland. She previously covered schools and City Hall for The Baltimore Sun.

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Title: local and local-to-global principles for zero-cycles on geometrically kummer $k3$ surfaces.

Abstract: Let $X$ be a $K3$ surface over a $p$-adic field $k$ such that for some abelian surface $A$ isogenous to a product of two elliptic curves, there is an isomorphism over the algebraic closure of $k$ between $X$ and the Kummer surface associated to $A$. Under some assumptions on the reduction types of the elliptic curve factors of $A$, we prove that the Chow group $A_0(X)$ of zero-cycles of degree $0$ on $X$ is the direct sum of a divisible group and a finite group. This proves a conjecture of Raskind and Spiess and of Colliot-Thélène and it is the first instance for $K3$ surfaces when this conjecture is proved in full. This class of $K3$'s includes, among others, the diagonal quartic surfaces. In the case of good ordinary reduction we describe many cases when the finite summand of $A_0(X)$ can be completely determined. Using these results, we explore a local-to-global conjecture of Colliot-Thélene, Sansuc, Kato and Saito which, roughly speaking, predicts that the Brauer-Manin obstruction is the only obstruction to Weak Approximation for zero-cycles. We give examples of Kummer surfaces over a number field $F$ where the ramified places of good ordinary reduction contribute nontrivially to the Brauer set for zero-cycles of degree $0$ and we describe cases when an unconditional local-to-global principle can be proved, giving the first unconditional evidence for this conjecture in the case of $K3$ surfaces.

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  6. BIZNESOWE ZERO #1: KLĘSKA PALIKOTA, INWESTORZY NABICI W BUTELKĘ

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  1. Global Zero

    Imagine a future where stability is not conflated with the threat of mass destruction; where safety for some no longer requires vulnerability for others; where justice and equity are experienced by communities most impacted by nuclear harm; and where international cooperation in the face of common threats allows us to finally address the many ot...

  2. The race to zero emissions, and why the world depends on it

    Net zero by 2050 is the goal. But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net-zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the...

  3. Why is reaching 'net zero emissions' so important?

    The U.N. climate science panel has said that man-made carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by about 45% by 2030, from 2010 levels, and reach "net zero" by mid-century to give the world a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries said they would ...

  4. What does net zero emissions mean and how can we get there?

    Commitment is needed from global leaders to at least halve global emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century. And a clear plan for how to deliver on these commitments is needed, along with interim emissions targets. As the climate crisis is a global threat, the world needs to find global solutions, by committing to support developing ...

  5. Is a World Without Nuclear Weapons Really Possible?

    The Global Zero movement, which advocates the establishment of a nuclear-free world by 2030, has gained increased attention after the Nuclear Arms Summit in Washington in April and several other ...

  6. Global net-zero emissions goals: Challenges and opportunities

    To avert the worst impacts of climate change, from extreme flooding to devastating droughts, the world will need to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the latest United Nations IPCC Report on the Earth's climate system. Achieving that goal means that by around 2050, the planet's total greenhouse gas emissions will need to decline to net-zero.

  7. Less Than Zero

    By Josef Joffe and James W. Davis. Once again, a global movement is afoot to free the world of nuclear weapons. Unlike the Easter marches of the 1950s and 1960s or the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, however, this time around, the policy elites themselves are leading the charge. The list of supporters of Global Zero, the new campaign's ...

  8. What Is Decarbonization, and How Do We Make It Happen?

    Net zero means that all greenhouse gas emissions produced are counterbalanced by an equal amount of emissions that are eliminated. Achieving this will require rapid decarbonization. There are two aspects to decarbonization. The first entails reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.

  9. Are we making real progress towards 'net zero' emissions?

    The U.N. climate science panel has said man-made carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by about 45% by 2030, from 2010 levels, and reach "net zero" by mid-century to give the world a good chance ...

  10. Global Zero: The Fate of Nuclear Weapons

    Global Zero. Global Zero is a term used to refer to worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. It is also used in connection with de-alerting nuclear weapons and the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons. Also, a Global Zero Movement has gained traction in 2007 when four senior statesmen of the cold war, subsequently nicknamed as the 'Four ...

  11. What Does Net Zero Really Mean?

    Reaching net zero limits the global increase in temperature of 1.5 C by 2100. The targets of net zero CO2 emissions and net zero greenhouse gas emissions can be seen as interim milestones in the ...

  12. The History of Zero

    The story of zero is the story of an idea that has aroused the imagination of great minds across the globe. When anyone thinks of one hundred, two hundred, or seven thousand the image in his or her mind is of a digit followed by a few zeros.

  13. Global Zero (campaign)

    Global Zero is an international non-partisan group of 300 world leaders dedicated to achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons. The initiative, launched in December 2008, promotes a phased withdrawal and verification for the destruction of all devices held by official and unofficial members of the nuclear club.The Global Zero campaign works toward building an international consensus and a ...

  14. Atlantic Ocean is headed for a tipping point − once melting glaciers

    In our experiment, that meant parts of the continent changed at more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) per decade - far faster than today's global warming of about 0.36 F (0.2 C ...

  15. Global Zero: world without nuclear weapons

    Global Zero: world without nuclear weapons February 4, 2011 Essay, February 2011 Leave a comment It is clear that if we don't achieve 'Global Zero, our planet is always at risk, of being converted into a Ground Zero. Outline 1. Introduction 2. Brief history of nuclear weapons 3. Perils of nuclear weapons 4. Need to eliminate nuclear weapons 5.

  16. Sustainable Development Goal: Zero Hunger

    noun. severe acts of violence, violating international law, committed against civilians, enemies, prisoners of war, or others during an armed conflict. More than 800 million people around the world are hungry. The United Nations's second Sustainable Development Goal, Zero Hunger, aims to end world hunger by 2030.

  17. Our Mission

    Global Zero is a catalyst for big ideas and bold leadership that move the world closer to a future free from nuclear weapons. It is powered by an unprecedented global network of world leaders, senior military commanders, and national security experts that spans the political spectrum and transcends borders and conflict zones. Over the last 10 ...

  18. Essays by CSPs

    Essays by CSPs - English essay - Global Zero: World without Nuclear Weapons By Irshad Ali Sodhar - Studocu Today, the number of nuclear weapons around the world is about 30,000 bombs with far greater weight and destruction power. Even a fraction of these weapons could put an end to human as well as other species on our planet.

  19. Goal 2: Zero Hunger

    Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Goal 2 is about creating a world free of hunger by 2030.The global issue of hunger and food insecurity has shown an alarming increase since 2015, a trend exacerbated by a ...

  20. PDF Zero Hunger: 795 Why It Matters

    make Zero Hunger a reality. Join the conver-sation, whether on social media platforms or in your local communities. You can join the Global Movement for Zero Hunger by joining the Zero Hunger ...

  21. Joe Biden 2.0 offers chance at less global tension

    Joe Biden's re-election could ease global tension. A second term for the U.S. president may lead to less fractious geopolitics and trade friction than his first term in office - as well as a ...

  22. ICT and rural development in the Global South

    ICT and rural development in the Global South. by William Van Eekelen, Routledge, 2024. ISBN 978-1-032-58842.1.

  23. Global Zero Essay

    Finish Your Essay Today! EssayBot Suggests Best Contents and Helps You Write. No Plagiarism! 2329 Orders prepared. Prices than inspire from ... Global Zero Essay, Teacher Day On Essay, How To Write Up Ipa, Write A Essay On Visit To A Historical Place, Pervesrity Thesis, My Best Friend In Hindi, Write An Argumentative Essay About Are You For Or ...

  24. Global Zero Essay

    Global Zero Essay - ID 4817. 695 . Finished Papers. Will You Write Me an Essay? Students turn to us not only with the request, "Please, write my essay for me." From the moment we hear your call, homework is no longer an issue. You can count on our instant assistance with all essay writing stages.

  25. Harvard Crimson Essay Comp on Instagram: "The prompts for the 2024

    globalessaycomp on February 12, 2024: "The prompts for the 2024 competition have just been announced! Check out the prompt..."

  26. Global Zero Essay

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  28. How are computers scoring STAAR essays? Texas superintendents, lawmaker

    Roughly eight in 10 written responses on the most recent English II End of Course exam received zero points this fall. For the spring test — the first iteration of the redesigned test, but ...

  29. Title: Local and local-to-global Principles for zero-cycles on

    Using these results, we explore a local-to-global conjecture of Colliot-Thélene, Sansuc, Kato and Saito which, roughly speaking, predicts that the Brauer-Manin obstruction is the only obstruction to Weak Approximation for zero-cycles.