Net Zero: The Current State of Emissions Targets in 2022

Michelle Heath

Together with The Canadian Heavy Oil Association

How net-zero goals vary from country to country

“Net zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period (OECD).”

Countries with Net-Zero Targets as of October 2021

By October 2021, 32 countries and the EU had submitted long term low emissions development strategies (LT-LEDS) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. 

However, countries’ net-zero targets vary significantly in their characteristics, making it difficult to compare the overall implications on achieving the global temperature goal. 

Different understandings of what net-zero is results in different interpretations of the concept of net-zero. Confusion occurs when specific terms like net-zero GHG emissions and carbon neutrality are referred to in the same analysis or climate neutrality verses carbon neutrality.

Timeline of Net-zero and Net-negative Targets in Selected Countries Prior to COP26

The timeframe of net-zero and net-negative targets varies across countries with most having a target of 2050 and some countries like Germany, Sweden and the EU committing to achieving further negative emissions after reaching their net-zero targets.  Singapore aims for net-zero emissions “as soon as viable in the second half of the century”.

Of the 52 net-zero targets analysed by the OECD, 40 covered all GHG emissions, 11 covered only CO2 emissions and one (New Zealand) excluded biogenic methane from GHG emissions.

Share of Global CO2 Emissions Covered by Net-Zero Commitments Prior to COP26, 2019

Prior to COP26, 35% of global CO2 emissions were not covered by net-zero commitments.

According to the Glasgow Climate Pact established at COP26 (October 31 – November 12, 2021), 153 countries put forward new or updated 2030 emissions targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which covered 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Impact of Meeting NDC Commitments at COP26

If pledges at Glasgow are fully implemented, it is thought that global warming can be kept below 2o Centigrade (C).  The catch, however, to deliver on these commitments means moving away from coal power, the reversal of deforestation, the reduction of methane emissions, and speeding up the switch to electric vehicles.

Net-zero targets are diverse, so difficult to compare.  How countries will meet their commitments, what the balance will be between emission reductions and removals, and the role that international carbon markets will play in reaching net-zero targets remains unclear. Greater clarity around net-zero targets and concrete tracking of actions are required to better understand what the outcome will be relative to achieving the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.


Anthropogenic – environmental pollution from human activity

EU – European Union

LT-LEDS – Long Term Low Emissions Development Strategy

NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions

OECD – Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development

UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change