Last updated:
May 24, 2024

Unavoidable Emissions

What are Unavoidable Emissions?

Unavoidable emissions refer to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that remain after all practical and economically viable measures to reduce a company's carbon footprint have been taken. They represent a subset of residual emissions that cannot currently be eliminated due to technological limitations or integral process requirements. These emissions are intrinsically linked to specific operations or activities where currently no practical low-carbon or zero-carbon alternatives are available.

Characteristics of Unavoidable Emissions

Unavoidable emissions tend to originate within sectors where the nature of the activity involves GHG emissions and where reduction or avoidance options are either non-existent or not commercially viable. Examples include certain industrial processes that emit GHGs as a byproduct, specific agricultural practices, and some forms of long-distance transportation. The key characteristic of unavoidable emissions is that, despite the best efforts and intentions, current technology and market conditions limit the ability to fully transition to zero emissions.

Strategies for Addressing Unavoidable Emissions

The challenge lies in identifying and mitigating unavoidable emissions as much as possible, and then compensating for whatever is remaining through other means. Purchasing carbon removal credits from projects that remove carbon elsewhere can help neutralise unavoidable emissions. Otherwise, continuously seeking improvements in efficiency and sustainability within existing constraints can gradually reduce the scale of unavoidable emissions over time.

What is the difference between unavoidable emissions, residual emissions, and hard-to-abate emissions?

  • Unavoidable Emissions: The residual emissions for which no feasible solution exists
  • Residual Emissions: While all unavoidable emissions are residual emissions, not all residual emissions are unavoidable. Residual emissions include all emissions left after reduction efforts, some of which might be reducible with better practices.
  • Hard-to-abate Emissions: These emissions come from sectors where reducing emissions is particularly difficult. While often overlapping with unavoidable emissions, the term "hard-to-abate" suggests that, with future innovations, these emissions might eventually be reduced or eliminated.

Role in Achieving Net Zero

Checklist for preparing your net zero business case

Understanding the concept of unavoidable emissions and learning to identify them is essential for any organisation aiming to achieve net zero targets. Sustainability managers must balance direct emission reduction strategies with investment in carbon removal projects in order to neutralise unavoidable emissions, ensuring that the overarching net zero targets can still be addressed.

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