Buzzing about net zero

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

I'm taking part in a workshop on net zero and education in a couple if weeks.  It's title is: What’s the buzz about net zero?  It's being organised by NAAEE and GEEP.  I'm chairing a panel and am expected to issue a challenge or two to speakers.

The event blurb says:

Climate change education plays a critical role in driving action and solutions needed to achieve net zero emissions globally. In this workshop, join educators from around the world to discuss innovative approaches to integrating net zero concepts into teaching and learning. We’ll explore how attention to net zero can enhance climate change education and help learners think about pathways for a just transition to a carbon-neutral future. Attend this 2-hour virtual workshop with educators from across the globe to learn about and share perspectives on this important component of international climate policy and action.

This implies that the focus is going to be on implementation, rather than on a justification of the need for a net zero policy or definitions.  That seems reasonable in the circumstances.

We're presented with a definition "adapted from US EPA":

"Net zero means consuming only as much energy as produced, achieving a sustainable balance between water availability and demand, and eliminating solid waste sent to landfills. This includes conserving water, reducing energy use, and eliminating solid waste to improve the environment, save money, and help communities become more sustainable and resilient."

This emphasis on water seems to go well beyond what I normally think of net zero meaning.  For example, the ISO simply says: "anthropogenic emissions must reach net zero by the year 2050".

It's certainly important to differentiate the goal of net zero from strategies for achieving it.  As Nature says: "The concept of net-zero carbon emissions has emerged from physical climate science. However, it is operationalized through social, political and economic systems."

This distinction has significant implications for education.  One is curriculum-related: there will need to be a cross-curriculum focus.  Another is that, whilst the net zero goal can be seen as uncontroversial because it relates to the reality of anthropogenic global warming and the need to limit this (which is widely accepted), its operationalisation "through social, political and economic systems" will likely be very controversial in that political decision-making is involved, along with values.  A clear example of this is the choice of 2050 and the implied speed of transition for achieving the goal.

It's all very well to tell students what net zero means in relation to the atmosphere and industrial systems; but it's surely not ok, in a free society for a teacher to instruct them about their preferred ways of implementation.

I'm obviously unable to speak on behalf of school students, but they do seem to want to discuss net zero and implementation strategies.  In England there are legal duties which mean that schools must prohibit the promotion of partisan political views, and take steps to ensure the balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues when they are brought to the attention of pupils.

And of course net zero is inherently political; people genuinely differ one from another; governments and oppositions differ; NGOs differ from government; NGOs differ amongst themselves.  Families similarly.

I wonder if the implementation of net zero will be regarded as political by the participants.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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