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Another environmental story from us! We know we've been talking about climate topics quite a lot lately, but with COP27 going on, there are so many interesting developments that we want to share.
One of the most important issues being addressed by the UN at COP27 is corporate and governmental greenwashing. "Greenwashing" is usually a term used when talking about a product or service that's publicized as being more environmentally friendly than it really is – for the sake of profit. Corporate and governmental greenwashing is a little bit different.
Basically, what's happening is that many companies and governments claim that they're working toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions by a certain year – usually 2050. And while making these claims, they still invest in and back new coal, oil and gas developments. To make up for supporting these projects, organizations rely on carbon offsets. An offset is a way to compensate for emissions you cause by funding an unrelated environmental project, like planting trees.
The issue is that offsets just don't really work. As Barbara Haya, the director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project at the University of California, Berkeley, explained: "The most basic problem with carbon offsets is that you're trading a known amount of emissions with an uncertain amount of emissions reductions. But there's also the whole trading approach of companies being able to buy their way out of their responsibility to reduce their own emissions."
At COP27, there is an entire panel dedicated to addressing this trend. On Tuesday morning, UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a report with recommendations and guidelines for net zero targets from companies and non-state organizations. He said: "The problem is that the criteria and benchmarks for these net zero commitments have varying levels of rigor and loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through. We must have zero tolerance for net zero greenwashing."
Among the guidelines are redlines for greenwashing. For example, companies can't claim to be going net zero while continuing to support new fossil fuel infrastructure, deforestation or other environmentally-damaging activities. They also can't just buy emissions credits instead of cutting their own emissions. Plus, they can't oppose government climate policies on their own or through trade associations.