There are many terms to describe climate ambition and action, and these are often used interchangeably. Here is a summary of some of the important and often-used ambitions. You can find the rest of our Glossary here.
Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing the CO2 emissions of a given activity. While full decarbonisation means zero carbon emissions, decarbonisation doesn’t imply zero emissions, as emissions can be balanced by carbon sequestration. To effectively communicate the scale of change needed, the term must be accompanied by a timeframe and rates of decarbonisation.
Carbon neutral means that any CO2 released into the atmosphere from a company is compensated with an equivalent amount of CO2 removed.
In practice, this means for a company to be climate neutral, either:
- the activities themselves must have zero CO2 emissions. This can be achieved through carbon abatement projects such as reducing fossil fuel use.
- the same amount of CO2 released by the activities must be permanently sequestered from the atmosphere elsewhere by ‘offsetting’ – or removing from the atmosphere. This can be achieved by buying ‘carbon credits’ – in essence, permission to emit carbon dioxide or other GHG in exchange for offsetting the effects of those emissions – and/or by supporting GHG-reduction initiatives such as renewable-energy projects.
Climate neutral is the same concept as carbon neutrality but it extends to zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (including emissions beyond carbon dioxide).
Net Zero carbon emissions
A commitment to net-zero carbon refers to the goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by a selected date. When carbon-neutral refers to balancing out the total amount of carbon emissions, net-zero carbon means no carbon was emitted from the get-go, so no carbon needs to be captured or offset. In practice for companies this means:
- Reducing its GHG emissions of a company through abatement activities as much as possible
- For residual emissions that cannot be removed completely, supporting/funding the removal of carbon dioxide produced by any emissions the business does produce.
Carbon negative (or climate positive)
Carbon Negative and climate positive are two similar terms. It means that a company goes beyond achieving net zero, and removes or captures more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits.