"Net zero" emissions targets are a "dangerous distraction" for the real task of overall emissions reductions, a new report has claimed.
Oxfam claims the focus on "net zero" – balancing emissions produced with those removed from the atmosphere – are side-tracking governments and businesses from taking steps that could have a real impact.
The charity claims in itsreport that "that too many governments and corporations are hiding behind unreliable, unproven and unrealistic ’carbon removal’ schemes in order to claim their 2050 climate change plans will be ‘net zero’".
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in May the path to net-zero emissions is narrow, but achievable.
"Staying on it requires the massive deployment of all available clean energy technologies – such as renewables, electric vehicles (EVs) and energy-efficient building retrofits – between now and 2030. For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day," the IEA said.
However, Oxfam said achieving "net zero" by 2050 with land use alone would require at least 1.6bn hectares of new forests, or five times the size of India.
Governments and big business are "failing to cut emissions quickly or deeply enough to avert catastrophic climate breakdown", Oxfam said.
"To limit warming below 1.5C and prevent irreversible damage from climate change, the world collectively should be on track to cut 2010 carbon emissions level by 45% by 2030, with the sharpest being made by the biggest emitters."
Chief executive of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken said the climate crisis is already devastating agriculture globally.
"It is driving worsening humanitarian crises, hunger, and migration. Poor and vulnerable people, particularly women farmers and Indigenous people, are being affected first and worst.
"’Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains.
More than 120 countries currently, including those in the EU, as well as the US, UK, China and Japan, have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century. Firms such as British Airways, Mars, Unilever, Citigroup, BlackRock, Shell and BP have made similar noises, it said.
"It is striking how much that one small word ‘net’ can obscure. ‘Net zero emissions’ and ‘zero emissions’ do not mean the same thing. Instead, in many cases, net zero targets are a greenwashing exercise that enable business as usual," the report states.
"Net zero targets have proliferated because they give government and corporate leaders what they are desperate for: a convenient way to look like they are taking dramatic action to stop climate catastrophe while largely failing to do so."