In this policy memo, Thomas Hale, Associate Professor in Global Public Policy, outlines what the next steps for an effective net zero governance system could look like.

'Net zero' has gone from a scientific concept, to a demand of fringe activists, to a mainstream organising principle for mitigation in record time. After COP26, at least 90% of the global economy is covered by some kind of net zero pledge. But having reached the “end of the beginning” of net zero—a near-universal commitment to the destination climate science says we need to arrive at by the middle of the century—a more difficult phase emerges.

A concept describing a global outcome must be operationalised for individual countries, regions, cities, sectors, and companies. Pledges must become binding pathways with sufficient short-term action to be credible. As Paris Agreement architect Laurence Tubiana put it at COP26, greenwashing is the new, and perhaps more insidious form of climate denialism. The next phase of net zero therefore requires building political power to shift rules and institutions that drive change; it requires governance.