Approaches to Operationalizing Equity in Net Zero Emissions Targets

Power plant

Student-led Research Team

Team Leads: Kate Altemus Cullen, PhD Student, Energy & Resources Group, UC Berkeley; Calder Tsuyuki- Tomlinson, Research Officer, Global Economic Governance Programme, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; Kaya Axelsson, Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, Oxford Net Zero Programme, University of Oxford

‘Net zero’ commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions now cover 56 percent of the global population, spanning a wide range of actors, including national and regional governments, cities, businesses, and investors (Black et al., 2021). In recognition of the impacts that arise from a global transition to net zero carbon emissions, there are growing calls for these actors to include equity principles in their commitments. However, due to the nascency of net zero as the organizing principle for global decarbonization in addition to the absence of overarching equity mechanisms, there is little consensus on the conceptual formulation and application of equity in net zero commitments. Our research question is therefore: How can equity be meaningfully, precisely, and thoroughly operationalised as part of net zero policymaking? In answering this question, we aim to provide clarity for actors committing to net zero targets on how best to consider equity for a diverse range of stakeholders. We perform a review of the existing literature on the variegated conceptions of climate equity and related terms. The resulting typology is then applied to a dataset of equity commitments found within a stocktake of net zero commitments previously collected by research group members, to build theory on potential drivers of equity processes in net zero policymaking. This theory is used to identify and interrogate exemplary cases through qualitative interview data, which is then utilized to develop an overarching framework on the incorporation of equity in net zero policymaking.


Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash