Climate jargon, what does it all mean?

Climate jargon, what does it all mean?

13 October 2022 | 4 min. readingtime

Climate jargon, what does it all mean?

The Qatar World Cup at the end of 2022 became the first 'carbon neutral' football event, according to the organizers. However, the Carbon Market Watch (CMW), a non-profit organization, has examined the organizers' plans and says projected emissions are likely under-reported. CMW stated that despite the lack of transparency, the evidence indicates that the emissions from this World Cup will be significantly higher than expected by the organisers, and that the carbon credits purchased to offset the emissions (from all air travel, road construction and new stadiums) are unlikely to have a sufficiently positive impact on the climate. How much value should we attach to the definition of carbon neutral?

CO2-neutral is the new gold. Today, more and more companies (and countries) promise to become carbon neutral, net zero or even climate positive. 'Carbon neutrality', 'net zero' and 'climate positive' are terms that have been around for a while and are adopted by most international companies. In 2006, Carbon Neutral was even named World of the Year according to the New Oxford American Dictionary. But the diversity of sentences and lack of clarity surrounding them can mislead stakeholders. That's why we wanted to take a deep dive into these definitions.

Carbon neutrality refers to the balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon emissions from carbon sinks. Or simply eliminate all carbon emissions altogether. Carbon sinks are all systems that absorb more carbon than they emit, such as oceans, soils and forests. It is impossible to generate carbon-free emissions, so offsetting (usually through projects) is a viable approach to becoming carbon neutral. Some examples of offsetting projects include planting trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere or distributing efficient cooking stoves.

When we talk about 'net zero', it is crucial to specify net zero carbon or emissions. Net zero emissions refer to the total balance of greenhouse gas emissions produced and GHG emissions removed from the atmosphere. Net-zero basically describes the moment when people stop adding the burden of climate-warming gases into the atmosphere, most companies and countries refer to the year 2050 where net-zero is to be reached.

CO2 negative and climate positive are actually comparable definitions. This means that a company removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits. The company then has negative CO2 emissions and thus has a positive impact on the climate. An example of a CO2-negative country is Bhutan, 70% of the country is covered with trees, which acts as a carbon sink and the (renewable) energy is generated by hydropower. So to round up some definitions:

Co2 neutral

Any CO2 released into the atmosphere is offset by a company's operations by an equivalent amount removed.

Climate positive

Activity that goes beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions to create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

CO2 negative means the same as 'climate positive'

How organizations describe climate positive and CO2 negative. It's primarily a marketing term and understandably confusing - we generally avoid it.

Climate neutral

Reducing all greenhouse gases to zero while eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organization can cause.

Net zero carbon emissions

An activity that releases net-zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Net Zero Emissions

Balance the entire amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) released and the amount removed from the atmosphere.


CO2 emissions generated by an activity (such as flying) can be calculated and the equivalent amount can then be "paid off" through a scheme that removes carbon from the atmosphere (such as planting trees).


An investment by a company in developing an emissions reduction project within the perimeter of its supply chain.

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This is an image of Raquel Criado Larrea.

Raquel Criado Larrea

Head of Sustainable Investments

Raquel is responsible for SRI policy and implementation at ASR Nederland.

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