KATIE WILLIAMS AND JOSH BLOODWORTH
A few weeks ago, our Comms team launched #DecodeClimateChange, an online campaign to demystify some of the jargon surrounding climate change. Missed it on our socials? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this round up of our first few posts!
We hear this a lot, with countries & businesses saying ‘we’ll be net-zero by 2050’, but what does it actually mean? Simply put, net-zero means that the greenhouse gases (GHGs) being put into the atmosphere are equal to those being taken out, either naturally by plants or the oceans, or by man made GHG extraction. When the world reaches net-zero, concentrations of GHGs will stop increasing, and global temperatures will gradually stop increasing. Other helpful terms to know are:
Climate Positive: This is when GHG removal is greater than the amount of emissions going into the atmosphere, resulting in decreased GHG concentrations. Confusingly, the term Carbon Negative is sometimes used to mean the same thing (it's negative emissions because you're taking carbon out of the atmosphere, but it has a positive impact on the climate).
Absolute Zero: this is when no GHG emissions are released to the atmosphere, so no offsetting is needed.
Carbon Offsetting: compensating for an organisation or government’s GHG emissions by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, either through natural solutions (like planting trees), or man-made carbon capture and storage.
Sounds good, right? But watch out - net-zero targets can be used by companies and governments to make it look like they’re doing something while carrying on with business as usual. Industries like fossil fuels and aviation can pay money to offsetting schemes to allow them to carry on extracting and using fossil fuels to make a profit. We need companies to aim for absolute zero emissions, or climate positive, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. You can find out more about what makes a good net-zero target here.
Greenwashing is when an organisation displays misleading advertising or behaviour to give them an environmentally responsible image. You can see a few examples of it here. But how can you spot it? Here are a few things you can ask yourself when you see a product or brand promoting how ‘green’ it is:
Are claims specific, ambitious and transparent? Watch out for companies hiding behind vague goals or buzz words like ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ or ‘recycled’. Brands genuinely trying to be eco-friendly will be specific about how they’re doing it, e.g. with specific dates for their targets, or detail about how their products are ‘natural’.
Is there consistency? Is the product just one ‘eco’ version among 100 non-eco versions, or is the company prioritising sustainability along all its products? The brand might just be using sustainability as a marketing ploy.
Who is the product/advert made by? Does the company have a history of being a polluter? If this is a new brand, are they owned by a bigger company with a questionable environmental record? Have a Google and see if their claims stand up to scrutiny.
Is there external verification? Companies and products can be certified by third parties, which can indicate that they are practicing what they preach - common ones include Fairtrade, B Corp, Rainforest Alliance and ISO14001.
Not all greenwashing is malicious, some is just by mistake, but it’s important to stay aware of it and call it out where we see it. We can’t build a sustainable world if companies are just pretending to be sustainable and getting away with it. If in doubt, do a bit of research to see if a company is doing what they say they’re doing.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of trapping carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and storing it in such a way that it is unable to affect the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can be captured either directly from the air, or from a concentrated stream of CO2 being produced by a power plant or other industrial process. To store the carbon, the concentrated CO2 is compressed into a liquid and transported to a storage facility. Storage occurs in underground geological sites or below the seabed.
Is CCS technology ready to help fight climate change?
In short, no. CCS projects are very energy intensive and wasteful, as well as being economically and socially expensive. The standard estimate for carbon capture efficiency is 85-90% , but most current projects can only capture less than 50% of emissions. To avoid reaching the climate change tipping point, CCS technology would need to capture 90Gt of CO2 by 2050. As it stands, the scale of CCS technology needs to be much greater than what is currently available to achieve this goal.
Why does it matter?
To avoid reaching the global warming tipping point, we need to make real changes right now. Governments and organisations are endorsing these technologies when there are already known alternatives, ultimately distracting from the real solution of reducing the sources of emissions.
To understand the flaws with CCS better, we recommend checking out this article here. To get a bigger picture on how CCS is used as a form of greenwashing and why it is dangerous, check out this article on corporate greenwashing.
The IPCC Report
This is big news for most people involved in climate action, but what is the IPCC report and what can it tell us about climate change?
The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a UN body made up of scientists from around the world who research climate change. The IPCC has been creating reports since 1988 to provide governments with the scientific evidence they need to develop climate policies. The new report, released in August 2021, is the 6th assessment report focusing on the science of climate change, and here are 5 key takeaways from it:
Human activity is the main cause of warming in our atmosphere. Humans have caused significant increases in GHG emissions, resulting in an average surface temperature increase of 1.09°C worldwide.
Climate change is already affecting weather across every region of Earth. Hot extremes (heatwaves and droughts), heavy rainfall and major storms have all increased in frequency & intensity since 1950.
Unless significant action is taken to reduce CO2 and other GHG emissions in the next 30 years, global warming will exceed 2°C during the 21st Century.
Every 0.5°C of temperature increase causes clear increases in intensity & frequency of climate extremes. If we keep going on our current trajectory, changes to our climate will become larger, with more hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy rainfall, intense cyclones, and reductions in Arctic sea ice loss & snow cover.
To limit human-induced global warming, we need to limit our CO2 emissions and get to at least net-zero. There is a near-linear relationship between anthropogenic Co2 emissions and the warming they cause.
Future global surface temperature estimates based on different emissions scenarios Source: IPCC 
That’s just a summary, and it’s a lot to take in! The report reaffirms what scientists have been telling us for decades, but as scientists have more data and improved models, they can state this with more certainty, and the wording is more urgent than ever. The only solution is to rapidly reduce our GHG emissions; governments must stop investing in fossil fuels, and aim for more than just net-zero.
Some inspiration for Climate Action
Thursday 12th August was International Youth Day, and as the IPCC report had left us feeling a bit overwhelmed, we thought it would be good to focus on what we can all do about the climate crisis, from small individual steps to larger community action.
One thing we can all do is start to understand what lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our emissions. Behaviour change is part of tackling the climate crisis, and we all have to start somewhere! Some things you could do are…
Walk, cycle, or use public transport instead of driving.
Eat less meat - beef and lamb in particular produce lots of methane emissions, but all meat has a higher carbon footprint than protein sources like beans and lentils.
Switch to a renewable energy provider.
Choose a bank or pension provider that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels.
Reduce your overall consumption - don’t buy things you don’t need, whether that’s food that might be wasted to new smartphones, or clothes that you hardly wear, everything we buy has an associated environmental cost.
Reduce transport emissions by buying local, and reduce environmental impacts by buying things second hand.
Once you’ve done some (or all!) of these, tell people about it! Maybe you’ve found some cute second-hand clothes in a charity shop, maybe you’ve found a new love for cycling, or maybe you’ve discovered some delicious new plant-based recipes. By sharing with the people around you, you can encourage friends and family to make positive changes too!
There’s all sorts we can do in our communities, but here are just a few:
Write to your MP! Check out our very own How Green Is Your MP campaign to find out how your MP has voted on climate change. Hope for the Future also have great resources on how to talk to your MP about climate change. One thing you can ask your MP to do is support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, a new law that aims to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues together, instead of as separate issues.
Join a climate action or environmental group - this could be anything from a nature conservation group, a cycling campaign group, or a plastic free group. Find out what there is near you and get stuck in with some like-minded people!
Start a campaign of your own - this could be anything from campaigning for more cycle lanes in your town, to asking your employer to provide food waste composting bins. Check out TakeClimateAction.uk for tips on how to do this.
This can involve
Donating to environmental and climate justice organisations - Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trust, Greenpeace and Cool Earth are just some of the organisations working to solve environmental problems.
Supporting campaigns against new fossil fuel projects - sign the petitions and follow #StopCambo on twitter to find out how you can support the campaign against a new oil field off the coast of Scotland.
Getting involved with COP26 in November - this year, the UN Climate negotiations are coming to Glasgow. Get involved by attending climate marches, or attending the Conference of Youth.
We hope these suggestions can help you to find some hope if you have been feeling hopeless about the IPCC report. Remember not to beat yourself up about not doing enough - you don’t have to save the planet on your own, and there are lots of young people working together to make change. If you are feeling overwhelmed, the Climate Psychology Alliance has a lot of resources, especially for young people, on climate change & mental health.
That’s it for this round up of #DecodeClimateChange - keep an eye on our socials for more, and let us know what climate terminology you want us to explore next!