Climate policy: empty words

Political conference A lot is promised at conferences – often with empty phrases (© unsplash)

A lot is being said in politics and business about the climate, sustainability and environmental protection. New terms have found their way into the discussion. But what sounds good doesn’t necessarily have to be good. On closer inspection, expressions that have a positive ring often turn out to be empty, or even the opposite of what they seem to describe. Here is a selection.

Net zero and carbon-neutral

The terms ‘net-zero’ and ‘climate-neutral’ refer to a certain point in the future – usually 2030 or 2050 – when the climate will not be burdened by additional greenhouse gas emissions, because they will either have been avoided or captured by one means or another.

In reality, however, it doesn’t mean much if polluters (in the global North) are counting on others (in the global South) to offset their damage. The time frame is also important: If emissions are released now but not removed from the atmosphere for decades, ‘net zero’ on the bottom line is worthless.

Nature-based solutions

What could be a better and more elegant solution to our problems than enlisting the power of nature? Surely no one could disagree.

We need to be aware that nature is not a simple tool kit for repairing the damage we cause. Many of these ‘solutions’ also trample the rights of people in the global South: If forests in which indigenous people have lived in harmony with nature since time immemorial are declared protected areas, this can lead to the displacement of millions of people.

Corporate pledges

Many companies claim that they understand the scope of the environmental crises and their responsibility for them. They make pledges, juggle annual figures and targets and invent environmental seals for themselves. Some give themselves a new, friendly-sounding name.

Distrust is in order because voluntary commitments are usually designed to pre-empt stricter laws; companies also rarely adhere to them. Pledges are a great way for companies to publicly pat themselves on the back, and in the end, no one actually holds them responsible for honoring their commitments.

The prefixes ‘green’ and ‘organic’

Prefixes such as ‘green’ and ‘organic’ are actually self-explanatory. ‘Organic’ has such a positive connotation that you can even buy organic water. Wasting green electricity doesn’t seem like much of a problem.

But ‘green growth’ or ‘green mining’ – neither of these exist in reality. Both cause damage to nature and the climate. Biofuels are mostly grown in vast, ecologically worthless monocultures. The title ‘Green Deal’ alone is not going to turn the EU’s economic stimulus plan into an environmental program.

We encourage you to be wary of appealing statements and announcements. What matters is what the terms mean in reality – and what they conceal.

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