Editor's note: This article has been updated on July 12, 2023 to reflect the latest Race to Zero numbers.
When you hear that everyone needs to do their bit to stop the climate crisis, you might think of two types of people: world leaders with the ability to influence billions in funding from governments — and normal citizens with the collective power to make meaningful change by living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.
But what about all that space in between nations and its people? Although it’s critical that countries make radical changes from the very top, there are so many more levels to global governance that can also make transformative contributions.
That’s where the Race to Zero campaign comes in.
The Race to Zero is a United Nations-led campaign that is working to fill that gap — by working with businesses, cities, regions, investors, and financial and educational institutions to commit to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
This means that any place or group that signs up to the campaign pledges to contribute nothing to global warming by the designated date, ensuring it doesn't put any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than it removes.
It’s an inclusive movement that's helping to gain ground in unconventional sectors in the global tussle to slow the climate crisis and mitigate its impacts. But it’s about much more than a net zero target.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Race to Zero campaign.
3 Facts You Need to Know About the Race to Zero
1. So far, over 11,300 non-state actors have signed up, including: 8,307 companies, 595 financial institutions, 1,136 cities, 1,125 educational institutions, and 65 health care institutions (as of September 2022)
2. It’s the largest ever alliance committed to hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
3. All members must meet robust science-aligned criteria and make maximum effort to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, in the mission to hit net zero by 2050.
How Did It Start?
The Race to Zero campaign was launched in June 2020 to drive net zero commitments ahead of the COP26 summit in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland — then the biggest climate summit to take place since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 (although the announcements from world leaders at COP26 failed to live up to the hype).
Since then, COP27 — hosted by Egypt in 2022 — was also largely seen as a flop, with commitments and pledges from leaders failing to address the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. It did, however, see some significant progress on loss and damage, including the creation of a new global fund to help address the impacts of the climate emergency on developing and climate-vulnerable nations.
Now, climate campaigners around the world are gearing up for COP28, which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November 2023.
What Are Race to Zero's Aims?
Climate activists including Greta Thunberg have previously criticized net zero commitments because of the length of the time-scale involved. What use is a promise to deliver change by 2050, as campaigners point out, if the next decade is the most critical to reduce carbon emissions?
That’s why an important aim of the Race to Zero campaign is to halve global emissions by 2030 — as part of the mission to achieve net zero by 2050 — to create a tangible short-term objective to force through immediate action now.
Signing up for the Race to Zero means also signing up to the Climate Ambition Alliance, a coalition launched in 2019 to encourage nations to increase ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as established in the Paris Agreement. NDCs are the updated pledges nations must make every five years for reducing emissions. Find out more about NDCs here.
How Can Groups Get Involved?
There’s a few criteria you have to hit to officially become part of the movement.
First, you must pledge to hit net zero ASAP — and set that target we’ve been talking about for a 50% emissions reduction by 2030. Then within a year of signing up, you have to come up with and publicly disclose a plan on how you’re going to hit those targets. You’ve then got to follow through and take that action, and publish results on progress annually.
If all goes well, the Race to Zero campaign will recognize your targets as "credible and science based", offer access to a community of knowledge-sharing, and support you in achieving your climate goals. Find out more about joining the Race to Zero here.
Who Has Joined Already?
There are so many initiatives associated with the Race to Zero that all the names of companies, cities, universities, and more that have joined would be far too long to list here.
In terms of educational institutions, the universities already set up to join the race are as varied as University College London and New York University to the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Cities signed up include Tokyo, Paris, Lagos, Los Angeles, and Liverpool, with international businesses like Mastercard, Netflix, Deloitte, and Etsy, Inc. all involved too, among many others.
Anything Else I Need to Know?
One more thing! The Race to Zero has a sister campaign associated with it called the Race to Resilience, calling on the same groups to step up to improve climate resilience.
That means an approach that’s more people focused, especially with those from vulnerable communities. The campaign aims to build the resilience of 4 billion people particularly at risk to the consequences of the climate crisis by 2030, for example from extreme heat or drought.
It was launched in January 2021 at the Climate Adaptation Summit by Alok Sharma, who was the UK-appointed President of COP26.
How Can I Take Action to Help?
When we use our voice to speak as one to make change happen, we can be an incredibly powerful force.
What's key is using the platforms and powers that we have, collectively and as individuals, to speak up and demand action on the climate crisis from all sectors.
As consumers, for example, we can only support companies that reflect our own ethics. If a company isn't doing enough for the climate, we don't have to spend our money with them — we can find more sustainable alternatives elsewhere.
As students or employees, we can urge our schools and workplaces to take climate action, or even officially join the Race to Zero.
You can also help by taking action with Global Citizen. Right now, we're working on our Power Our Planet campaign. The year-long campaign is calling on world leaders, companies, the world's multilateral development banks, and more to take urgent climate action and reform the now 80-year-old global financial system — a step that is crucial to ensuring our global systems can meet the climate crisis head on and unlock trillions in climate financing for climate-vulnerable countries.