Carbon dioxide is public enemy #1. But is this focus misguided?
From staggering industrial spills that are pushed into the back corner of reporting, to ‘smoke and mirrors’ carbon neutrality announcements by leading blue-chip companies…
The reality of GHGs may be very different to your current understanding – and unsurprisingly so, due to the overwhelmingly selective commentary across the board of sustainability reporting.
Greenhouse Gases (GHGs): How many can you list?
There’s more than carbon dioxide?… Yes!
While carbon dioxide is one of the biggest drivers of climate change, other GHGs, including methane, play an extremely significant role.
Methane: The GHG outperforming in the shadows
The reality is that other GHGs, such as methane, are actually more damaging than CO2.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and a major contributor to Scope 1 GHG emissions.
It has 28 times the heating potential of CO2 and is responsible for approximately 30% of the rise in global temperatures.
What we don’t often hear about is the industrial scale methane leaks that are incredibly damaging to the environment.
You may remember the Nord Stream rupture in September of last year (2022).
The UN reported this as the largest single methane release ever recorded.
GHGSat uses satellites to monitor methane emissions. They estimated the leak rate from one of four rupture points to be 22,920 kilograms per hour.
This is equivalent to burning about 630,000 pounds of coal every hour.
The unsustainable elephant in the room
Companies can’t offset their way to sustainability under the guise of CO2 neutrality.
The problem with offsets is that they address only CO2 and not the other gases that drive climate change – an undeniably alarming problem considering the impacts that we have explored above.
Net zero agreements – which many countries are bound to by law – encompass all GHGs and therefore must be the focus for businesses and wider industries.
Through this lens, carbon neutrality is unfortunately a veiled approach hindering genuine progress.
Why is this so relevant right now?
Last week the EU announced they would ban ‘climate neutral’ claims by 2026 and emissions offsetting as a basis for carbon-neutral or eco-friendly product claims.
“We are clearing the chaos of environmental claims,” said the socialist lawmaker Biljana Borzan, who led negotiations for the European parliament on the law.
An example: this month Apple announced its first carbon neutral product.
The New Climate Institute described this to be a ‘bold exaggeration to imply these products have a neutral impact on the environment’.
As the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) bluntly outlines it: ‘There is no such thing as ‘carbon neutral or ‘CO2 neutral’ cheese, plastic bottles, flights or bank accounts.
The positives: A shift in perspective is already happening
Although many of us are just learning the truth about carbon neutrality schemes, the new law introduced by the EU is already fuelling a wave of speculation on existing sustainability claims, setting a new standard for the future.
The BEUC reports that consumers can expect the following:
- Ban on generic environmental claims for which the trader cannot demonstrate an excellent environmental performance.
- Ban on sustainability labels which are not based on certification schemes or established by public authorities.
- Stricter rules for future environmental performance claims which will only be allowed if they include a realistic implementation plan, feasible targets and if they are regularly reviewed by independent third-party experts, whose findings shall be made available to consumers.
- Ban on ‘carbon neutral’ claims, which are highly misleading to consumers and are everywhere on the market, often in the most environmentally-harmful sectors such as aviation and food.
- New information obligations on repairability and software updates to help consumers choose more sustainable products at the point of sale.
- New harmonised guarantee label to allow consumers to make more informed choices. Consumers will be informed about the durability of products on the market which could influence their purchasing decisions.
- Ban on business’ premature obsolescence practices which can cause early product failures.
Despite the law needing time to be implemented (2026), if it indicates the direction legislation will be taking, it is an extremely positive and encouraging step forward.
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