In order to stabilize rising temperatures and mitigate the negative effects of global warming, scientists are increasingly pointing to achieving net-zero emissions as essential in stopping climate change. Below is a summary of the definition of net-zero emissions, how the agricultural sector is involved, and tips for developing a net-zero plan.

What is Net-Zero?
Net-zero refers to a balance between the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere and the greenhouse gases being removed from the atmosphere. When a state of net-zero is reached, global warming stops. The Paris Agreement, which is an international treaty that seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change, has set a target for net-zero emissions from all of its members (191 countries and the European Union) by the middle of the 21st century. As part of the Paris Agreement, Canada has set a goal to have net-zero emissions by 2050, and has set up a Net-Zero Advisory Body to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2030. Net-zero emissions have also become an important issue for business owners and investors; a 2021 RIA survey found that 85% of Canadian investors support Canada’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and 78% would like their investment portfolios to include companies taking action to reduce emissions.

Challenges Within the Agricultural Sector
When it comes to reducing emissions, the agriculture sector faces issues in two main areas: methane production associated with livestock care, and nitrogen and carbon production associated with crop fertilization. Food systems are responsible for over ⅓ of global emissions- over 60% of which can be attributed to animal-based foods (think meat and dairy) according to a 2021 study done by Nature Food. The long-term solution to mitigating these emissions is to change one’s business practices to be lower-emitting (through, for example, switching from crop farming to wind or solar farming or using carbon farming to reduce emissions). However, especially when such changes aren’t necessarily profitable, these changes can be extremely expensive to implement.

Tips for Developing a Net-Zero Plan

  • Understanding the level of emissions that your business is responsible for: Companies such as The Carbon Trust can help you identify and understand your business’s current carbon footprint. 
  • Set targets for science-based emissions reduction: Once you have identified the areas of your business that produce the most emissions, you can set targets to reduce them. In order for a reduction target to be classified as “science-based”, it must fall in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels, as established by the Paris Agreement. Companies like Sciences Based Target Initiative can help you set appropriate targets for your business.    
  • Compensate for current emissions by offsetting: Carbon dioxide has the same impact on the planet no matter where it is emitted, so if equal amounts of carbon dioxide can be absorbed, it will cancel out the carbon dioxide being emitted. Businesses can invest in initiatives that reduce or store carbon, such as tree planting or forest preservation. For farmers and food-processors specifically, carbon farming is a great way to reduce carbon emissions- read our blog post on carbon farming here
  • Take advantage of bursaries and grants that fund emissions reduction: Implementing emissions reduction business practices can be expensive; the government of Canada offers many bursaries and grants to encourage business owners to make environmentally-friendly switches. For a list of federal funding programs, click here.