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 733 cities, 31 regions, 3,067 businesses, 173 investors, and 622 higher education institutions have signed up.

2. Alongside 120 countries, it’s the largest ever alliance committed to hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

3. By COP26, the aim is that signatories for Race to Zero will account for 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

How Did It Start?

The Race to Zero campaign was launched in June 2020 to drive net zero commitments ahead of the UK government hosting the COP26 summit in November 2021 from Glasgow — the biggest climate summit to take place since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

It’s being led by Nigel Topping from the UK and Gonzalo Muñoz from Chile, the UN's High-Level Climate Champions for Climate Action. The idea is this: to supercharge a healthy green recovery focused on job creation and sustainable growth.

What Are Its Aims?

Climate activists including Greta Thunberg have previously criticised net zero commitments because of the length of the time-scale involved. What use is a promise to deliver change by 2050, the argument goes, 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 — 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 set up 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 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 recognise 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 everything you need to get started here.

Who Has Joined Already?

There are so many initiatives associated with the Race to Zero that all the names of businesses, cities, universities, and more that have joined as a result 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.

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 on Jan. 25 at the Climate Adaptation Summit by Alok Sharma, the UK-appointed President of COP26. You can read more about how businesses, investors, policymakers, individuals, and more can contribute to the Race for Resilience here.

How Can I Support It?

When consumers speak out as one, we can force companies to listen.

You can do that by signing the Global Citizen petition calling on businesses to halve their emissions by 2030 — a key component of the Race to Zero campaign. Add your name here.

There’s a number of other environmental actions you can take with Global Citizen too. Head here to send a message to the White House to protect vulnerable communities from the consequences of the climate crisis; call on the UK to show better leadership ahead of hosting COP26; demand Europe plant more trees; and much more.

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

What Is the ‘Race to Zero’? Everything to Know About the Mission to Cut Emissions.

By James Hitchings-Hales