Hitting net zero is not enough – we must restore the climate

Letters

Environmental activists urge governments and companies to start acting, not only to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, but to achieve restoration as well

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi province
Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi province. Photograph: Sam McNeil/AP
Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi province. Photograph: Sam McNeil/AP
Fri 13 Nov 2020 02.00 EST

The climate crisis is here now. No matter how quickly we reach zero emissions, the terrible impacts of the climate crisis will not just go away. They will continue to cause millions to suffer for centuries to come, even in the most ambitious scenarios. As such, no matter how quickly it is done, solely cutting emissions is not enough.

This is why we believe the ideal solution to the climate crisis would be to go beyond net zero, and start to restore the climate. This would be done by, on top of reducing emissions to zero, removing huge amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. As such, we aim to restore the climate to as close to a safe climate as possible.

Reaching zero emissions as quickly as possible is a necessary prerequisite for any attempt at restoration. The key purpose of removals should be to attempt to remove as much historic GHGs from the atmosphere as possible. This is not an excuse to reduce ambition on cutting emissions, because we don’t have the capacity to remove future emissions as well. Restoration is not about promoting one specific removal technique, but supporting the basic aim of trying to restore the climate. To restore the climate and have a safe future, we need to maximise mitigation, adaptation and removals.

We therefore believe we must heighten our ambition to climate restoration on every level. We urge activists to start including restoration in their campaigning. We urge governments and companies to start acting, not only to reach net zero as soon as possible, but to achieve restoration as well. And we urge every citizen to do what they can to make the dream of restoration a reality.
Gideon Futerman Founder of Worldward and youth climate activist, Dr Rowan Williams Former archbishop of Canterbury, Dr James E Hansen Adjunct professor, Columbia University Earth Institute, and former director of Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Science, Bella Lack Youth climate activist, George Monbiot Author and environmental activist, Michael E Mann Distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of Earth Systems Science Center, Penn State University, and member of the National Academy of Science, Dale Vince Founder of Ecotricity and UN climate champion, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim Environmental activist, founder of AFPAT and UN SDG advocate, Will Attenborough Actor, Mark Lynas Author and activist, Chloe Aridjis Novelist and member of Writers Rebel, Rick Parnell CEO, Foundation for Climate Restoration, former COO of the United Nations Foundation, Amika George Activist and founder of Free Periods, Bel Jacobs Activist, journalist and former fashion editor, Dr Shahrar Ali Former deputy leader of the Green party of England and Wales, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey Artists, co-founders of Culture Declares Emergency, Jay Griffiths Author and activist