Carbon Neutrality- A Dream or a Reality?

Human civilization has come a long way from its beginnings as an Early Man. Through increased human intelligence, we have made all those things possible which were mere dreams centuries ago. This includes scientific and technological advancements such as the ability to study other planets, sending rovers on other planets (quite literally), the invention of computer chips and subsequent advancements in them, artificial intelligence and so on. But despite all these advancements, there is one area where humans have fallen behind, i.e., taking care of the environment or more specifically achieving carbon neutrality.

Carbon neutrality is defined as a balance between the emission of carbon and absorption of carbon from carbon sinks, i.e., those systems that absorb more carbon than they emit like oceans, soils, and forests. It was the word of the year for the New Oxford American Dictionary in the year 2006 and since then, it has been propelled into the mainstream world. Offsetting carbon emissions has become a viable approach for becoming carbon neutral. It involves calculating the total carbon footprint and then analyzing the worst carbon indicators, which means an analysis needs to be done to ascertain where a particular company is emitting and accordingly acting upon it.

For the past decade or so, many countries and companies have been working tirelessly to achieve carbon neutrality. For instance, in 2015, the historic Paris Agreement was signed by 191 countries which including reduced their carbon emissions among other agreements. Many European countries are actively working towards making this possible and this work has been pushed up tremendously by the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has changed the way we view our cities, forcing them to restructure once again. For example, to make serious cuts in carbon emissions, a concept by the name of “15 Minute Cities” has come into the spotlight, where everything we need is within a 15-minute walk or bike ride and neighbourhoods are built around our basic needs. This not only results in reducing carbon emissions but also brings communities closer together. Paris is already on its way to remove 140000 on-street car parking bays and stripping back roads to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists. London has also committed carbon neutrality by introducing its “Mini-Hollands” project where three boroughs have been given 30 million pounds to create more space for cyclists. Spanish city Barcelona has been experimenting with “superblocks” where all interior roads within a 400 by 400-meter block are closed off to all traffic except for residents. Sweden has taken up this hyperlocal concept a level further by going for “One-Minute City”. It turns patches of pavement outside the citizens’ front doors into critical connecting spaces for communities.

Big companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. have also vowed to achieve carbon neutrality. Google’s upcoming office, i.e., Bay View Campus will consist of new pathways for walking and cycling which will help make the area less car-centric. Another massive upcoming Google campus at Sunnyvale has been designed to allow workers to travel in zig-zag levels by walking, cycling or rollerblading. Sunnyvale will also consist of a second Google office which will be a mass timber building. This office will feature a dynamic wood façade for controlling the amount of heat within the building. Amazon also has a new headquarters in the pipeline which features plenty of greenery. This office will be a kind of escapist hub, where work will be combined with a connection to nature. The year 2030 has been set as a deadline by many companies for accomplishing this mission.

Clean energy products such as wind energy and solar energy have also gained tremendous popularity over the last decade have been viewed as frontrunners by many when it comes to achieving carbon neutrality. Singapore has mastered the art of solar energy, by placing solar panels on the surface of the water. This results in solar panels being utilized more efficiently and more energy is stored as compared to the traditional method in which the panels are placed on hard surfaces or in deserts. Companies such as Tesla Inc. with their revolutionary electric cars and clean energy solution products are already winning the hearts of consumers. India has also seen a slew of investments in recent times with relation to carbon neutrality by billionaires like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani. Carbon neutrality also incorporates achieving sustainability which essentially means creating a better future for future generations so that they do not run out of resources. Over the years, a new concept has emerged in sustainability, i.e., Circular Economy which incorporates a closed-loop system wherein there is little to no waste is generated. Companies in Amsterdam are already engaging in this activity and the results are indeed successful.

So, to sum it up, a lot of potential has been shown in achieving carbon neutrality and it is going quite well. However, nothing is perfect and here too the solutions, while they look promising, still, a lot of work must be done. For instance, the yield rates of windmills are not that high as compared to solar energy and the production process of lithium-ion batteries which are used in electric cars isn’t carbon-neutral at all. But one thing is for sure, i.e., we humans are on the right path and while technology wasn’t linked with carbon neutrality earlier, it is now playing a major role in propelling us forward in achieving that dream.

Aayush Sharma

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