Last month at COP26, the global event industry presented a ‘Net Zero Carbon Events’ pledge towards a sustainable future for events with many key players signing up. But what does net zero actually mean, and why is it so crucial for our industry today?
What is net zero?
Net zero means releasing equal levels of carbon into the atmosphere through greenhouse gases (GHG) to those removed from it. The international scientific community generally agree that global emissions of GHG need to reach net zero around 2050 to prevent severe and perhaps irreversible damage to the planet through warming.
For a company to ‘become net zero’ means eliminating GHG emissions and ensuring that any unavoidable, residual emissions are balanced by removal of carbon from the atmosphere through offsetting. Planting trees, also known as afforestation, is an example of an offsetting method - trees can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
What’s the difference between net zero and carbon neutral?
Being carbon neutral usually means removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere as a company or process releases. This removal is achieved by offsetting, which companies often do to make their operations more sustainable. The term carbon neutral tends to focus on CO2, not other GHGs such as methane, and it assumes that significant emissions will continue to be emitted and therefore offsetting also needs to play a significant role to keep a balance. Carbon neutrality can be an intermediate step towards net zero, where the aim is to eliminate all types of GHG emissions in the first place, so that offsetting is only needed for minor, unavoidable emissions.
What is the 'Net Zero Carbon Events' pledge and why is it important?
Each year there are approximately 32,000 large exhibitions worldwide, with 4.5 million companies exhibiting and over 303 million visitors*. The sheer scale of our industry proves that making the future of events truly sustainable will have a significant, positive impact on our local communities and planet.
The new Net Zero Carbon Events initiative will provide an opportunity for the global industry to work collaboratively and create a roadmap that meets the urgent challenges posed by the climate crisis today.
Olympia London was one of the first UK venues to sign this pledge and commit to targets aligned with the Paris Agreement, which includes achieving a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 on the way to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
What are the next steps?
We aim to diagnose all sources of carbon emissions from our business and events we host. This means working with a range of players from across the events industry. There is a complex network of stakeholders involved in delivering events, and there are other sources that generate indirect carbon emissions too, for example, the travel and stay of visitors and exhibitors. Only once we identify all these sources across the whole supply chain and wider network can we put robust plans in place to race towards net zero together as an industry.
Olympia London has recently appointed an external specialist in net zero to help us assess our footprint and plan effectively. This in turn will help others in the industry through sharing what we learn.
As part of the pledge, our venue and other participants will provide a clear roadmap before the end of 2023, demonstrating how we will achieve net zero status. Progress against this roadmap will be reported at least every two years, and we will be a visible advocate and collaborator to drive momentum across our industry.