Understanding Important Climate Change Jargons


There are many technical words that we keep hearing in popular media related to climate action but what do these buzzwords actually mean?

As more and more people mobilize daily to fight the climate crisis, it is crucial to understand the nature of some buzzwords that drive their ideologies. Are terms like Carbon neutral, Carbon Negative, Net Zero and Climate Positive just marketing gimmicks or are they definitive? Do they all mean the same thing or do they differ? These are some questions that must have popped up in everyone’s mind, read further to have some of these answered.

What is Carbon Neutrality?

Carbon neutrality refers to a state where the amount of CO2 released in the atmosphere is equivalent to the amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere by various means, leaving a zero balance. This balance is also known as a zero carbon footprint (Carbon Footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an entity, service or product)

Achieving this balance might seem like a challenge but the easiest way to achieve this is by reducing our emissions to a level where they can be absorbed naturally by the world’s flora acting as carbon sinks.


How is Carbon neutrality distinct from Carbon Negative and Net Zero?

While the terms carbon neutrality and carbon negative might be used synonymously in several contexts they are distinct from one another. Carbon Negative is the next step after Carbon Neutrality, it refers to eliminating more carbon from the atmosphere than is emitted. This approach might be the only viable solution considering the fact that the safe levels of CO2 (335 ppm) were surpassed back in 1987. More and more organizations and Nations are trying to achieve Carbon negative and Microsoft recently announced that it aims to go carbon negative by 2030.

Now when we compare the concept of Net Zero or zero emissions to the above-discussed terms we might draw certain similarities with carbon neutrality, but the term is broader in essence. It is defined as the net total of all emissions should be zero, which refers to all greenhouse gasses (GHG) and sometimes only to CO2. Most national and International treaties are aiming to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 or 50. However, with our current infrastructure, no technology is truly “zero emissions”, as it might have embedded emissions that are a result of its production process, but it does carry the promise of zero ongoing emissions. A Coal Plant that generates CO2 but is retrofitted with carbon capture technology could be treated as having zero emissions or “net zero”


So what is Climate Positivity and Carbon Positive?

While both the terms sound similar they have different meanings and are confusing as well. When we consider carbon emissions, the terms positive or negative are with reference to zero. Being carbon positive would mean that the emissions are above zero, which would directly draw the inference that a particular entity is bad for the environment. But in essence, all businesses are carbon positive to some extent as with current infrastructure it is difficult to remove more carbon than is produced.

Climate positivity on the other hand the total CO2 and equivalent (CO2e) emissions of a business entity, whether it’s a product, initiative, or total operations are less than the CO2e released into the atmosphere. There are several ways businesses can accomplish this: through significant carbon removals or avoided emissions. The point of distinction here is that even though an entity might be carbon positive it can be climate positive by investing in tech that captures carbon from the atmosphere.


Marketing gimmicks rely on generating confusing terms to support their cause and to reduce their accountability. It is important to understand the distinction between terms to evaluate our stance on a particular issue and to understand the importance of national and international action taken in this regard. Using the correct words can be the difference between actual action and greenwashing.


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