An Electric Carbon Battle Bus Is Touring Britain in a 'Race to Zero'

Not everyone agrees with the UN's net zero goals, but they do have some value.

Zero Carbon bus tour

Planet Mark

Question: What’s better than an electric bus? 

Answer: An electric bus that’s traveling around, teaching organizations how to meaningfully reduce their emissions. 

And that’s exactly what Plant Mark’s fully electric Carbon Battle Bus is doing in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Traveling from city-to-city around the UK, the bus is holding workshops and events—both virtual and in-person—to recruit businesses and organizations to join the UN’s Race to Zero initiative. 

Now, as the eagle-eyed readers will notice, Race to Zero is using the much discussed and contested concept of net zero as its 2050 end goal, an idea which Lloyd has described as a dangerous distraction. Ever the fence sitter, my own thinking is that there are good net zero commitments and bad net zero commitments, and the devil—as always—is very much in the detail. 

While the UN’s Race to Zero commitment won’t please everyone, it would be unfair to dismiss it as greenwash or a distraction. That’s because organizations that sign up are also committing to significant commitments that include: 

  • Halving absolute emissions by 2030
  • Disclosing progress on a yearly basis
  • Setting short- and medium-term commitments consistent with longer term goals

It also includes some significant qualifications about when and how offsets might come into play: 

Emissions that cannot presently be removed should preferably be directly counterbalanced by funding high-quality projects which remove carbon from the atmosphere, or alternatively, avoid emissions. At net zero, any remaining emissions should be counterbalanced with an appropriate amount of carbon removals which are permanent.
Funding carbon credit projects (off-setting) is a solution that you should only use as a complement to halve emissions before 2030 towards net zero and should never be a substitute for reducing emissions and creating solutions to reduce global warming. To ensure impact, it is important to carefully decide where to purchase carbon credits from. We recommend using certified, relatively new carbon credit projects, which should be aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This gets to the reason why I am skeptical about dismissing the idea of net zero outright. Most businesses and organizations—just like individuals—have no realistic way to get to 100% zero emissions on their own, at least not without putting themselves out of business. So while we must push every entity to go as hard and as fast as possible to directly reduce their emissions, we must also accept that a goal of true zero emissions will only be reached by systems-wide transformation. 

So, yes, society as a whole really should be aiming for zero. And yes, we should be careful of allowing net zero thinking to distract us from that goal. But we must also accept that each of us—individuals and institutions alike—are going to be limited by the speed at which those around us are traveling. And if we reach a point where we cannot go further on our own, carefully defined and scrutinized net zero strategies may help us to continue contributing to progress, even as we run up against our own specific limitations.

On a personal level, while I reduce my footprint where I can, I also choose to look outwards. That means measuring my progress on whether I am doing more harm than good. Well-designed net zero commitments are potentially a way that businesses can do the same.