Research Commentary: Is Net-Zero a Possible Solution to the Climate Problem?

John M. Deutch

October 2023

I have noted that many observers of climate policy do not believe that the widely adopted policy of Net-zero emissions by 2050 is possible yet often do not have clear reasons for why they hold this belief.  This commentary gives the reasoning that supports the belief.

Historically, the objective of climate policy has been to maintain the global average temperature increase under a specified level.  Increasingly, countries and organizations today express the objective as a specific target date for reaching Net-zero emissions.  Over ninety countries, including China and India, responsible for 80% of global greenhouse emissions have set Net-zero emission targets; the United States and the European Union have pledged to reach a Net-zero economy by 2050. This commentary explains why achieving global Net-zero is highly unlikely by any certain date and, even if achieved, will not necessarily solve the climate problem.  The major obstacles to successful Net-zero are unpredictable, involve significant political issues, and are not easily described in econometric models.