Home Resources Blog January 2023

ISO Net Zero Guidelines

16 January 2023
With increasing concern around global climate change, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) have published guidance for all who work towards net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whether that be groups, companies, governments or countries.

This very welcome guidance was launched at COP27 in November 2022. The guidelines attempt to standardise, on a global level, the often murky and confusing approach to the achievement of Net Zero by providing guiding principles and recommendations to enable a common, global approach to achieving net zero GHG emissions.

The guidelines align voluntary initiatives and adoption of standards, policies and national and international regulation. In effect, the document provides guidance on what can be done to contribute to global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C by achieving net zero no later than 2050.

Unlike many of the other ISO standards we at NQA are familiar with such as ISO 14001 (Environment), ISO 50001 (Energy), ISO 14064 (GHG emissions), the standard does not contain requirements, rather it is a guidance document. Terms such as ‘should’, ‘may’ and ‘can’ are used instead of ‘shall’, reflecting the nature of the guiding principles.   

The document is intended to be used in combination with science-based pathways to establish climate strategies, which are aligned with the United Nations backed Race to Zero campaign.  

One interesting and very valuable inclusion is a globally recognised definition for net zero, a term which for some time has created some confusion: net zero is a, ‘condition in which human-caused residual GHG emissions are balanced by human-led removals over a specified period and within specified boundaries’. In this way, the term should not be confused with carbon neutrality, ie the document focuses on removals rather than offsets.

The standard is not aligned with Annex SL which we at NQA may be used to when using some ISO standards, instead the framework can be summarised as follows:

  • Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 provide the usual scope, normative references and definitions

  • Clause 5 lays out net zero guiding principles, to ensure climate strategies are established in a timely, aligned, credible and transparent manner

  • Clause 6 provides for establishing the levels and boundaries for net zero

  • Clause 7 provides for leadership and commitment

  • Clause 8 provides for target setting

  • Clause 9 provides for mitigation activities, including some very useful recommended actions for mitigating scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions

  • Clause 10 provides for the counterbalancing of residual GHG emissions, after mitigation activities. The recommendation is for investment in high-quality removals which can be in the value chain or through removal-based offsets and removal-based credits. Note the use of ‘removal’ rather than ‘offset’ – this document should not be confused with carbon neutrality.

  • Clause 11 provides for measurement and monitoring of progress

  • Clause 12 provides for wider impact, equity and empowerment, including alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • Clause 13 provides for communication, reporting and transparency when reporting progress to net zero, including making the information on progress publicly available

  • Clause 14 provides for overall improvement.

The Net Zero Guidelines are a very welcome addition, and can be used alongside existing standards for which NQA offer certification and verification such as ISO 14064 for quantifying and reporting GHG emissions, PAS 2060 for carbon neutrality (as an initial step towards net zero) and ISO 14001 for environmental objectives.  

If you require any assistance with the guidelines, or are aiming to adopt the guidance, please feel free to contact NQA for further information.