Why residual emissions matter right now

Holly Jean Buck, Wim Carton, Jens Friis Lund, Nils Markusson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Net-zero targets imply that continuing residual emissions will be balanced by carbon dioxide removal. However, residual emissions are typically not well defined, conceptually or quantitatively. We analysed governments’ long-term strategies submitted to the UNFCCC to explore projections of residual emissions, including amounts and sectors. We found substantial levels of residual emissions at net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, on average 18% of current emissions for Annex I countries. The majority of strategies were imprecise about which sectors residual emissions would originate from, and few offered specific projections of how residual emissions could be balanced by carbon removal. Our findings indicate the need for a consistent definition of residual emissions, as well as processes that standardize and compare expectations about residual emissions across countries. This is necessary for two reasons: to avoid projections of excessive residuals and correspondent unsustainable or unfeasible carbon-removal levels and to send clearer signals about the temporality of fossil fuel use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-358
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number4
Early online date2023 Mar 9
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


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