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Chemistry needs to play a central role in achieving ‘net zero’ emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere to prevent changes to the climate that will have catastrophic impacts for humanity and for many ecosystems on the planet. International action to limit global warming to 1.5 °C has framed as a key goal the reduction of global emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere. Chemistry underpins innovative approaches to reducing emission of the key GHGs, comprising CO2, CH4, N2O and fluorinated gases, and to the recapture of gases already in the atmosphere. Rapid progress is needed in the application of green and sustainable chemistry and material circularity principles in developing these approaches worldwide. Of critical importance will be the incorporation of systems thinking, recognition of planetary boundaries that define safe operating spaces for Earth systems, and an overall reorientation of chemistry towards its roles in stewardship of the Earth’s material resources and in sustainability for people and the planet.