Strengthening net zero claims is imperative for avoiding greenwashing. The European Climate Law provides a foundation for future EU climate policy, by committing member states to the EU-wide 2050 climate neutrality objective and the pursuit of negative emissions thereafter. Although the Climate Law defines what climate neutrality is at the EU level, and the Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation highlights the role of land-based removals in achieving it, current EU law does not define what constitutes ”net zero” or ”climate neutral” at an organisational or company level, nor does it set out the role of novel or innovative carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods (e.g., biochar, BECCS, DACCS, etc.) in achieving net zero.
Climate claims are one way for companies to communicate their climate mitigation efforts. If such claims are false and do not stand up to scientific scrutiny, they become a tool for greenwashing and divert important private funding from true climate action. Without strengthening net zero claims through proper regulation and transparency, companies can be rewarded for claiming to benefit the climate while continuing to emit more carbon, damaging the well-being of people and the planet. In contrast, credible and scientifically sound climate claims could allow companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, enabling citizens to make educated purchase decisions, or giving governments and civil society a tool to incentivise environmental stewardship and enable the rigorous mobilisation of private funding to support climate action.
Since the publication of the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) proposal in November 2022, there has been an expectation that Green Claims would fill in this legislative gap by regulating the substantiation of climate claims that can be made based on certified carbon removals (i.e., climate neutrality or net zero claims). A recent investigation into one of the world–leading GHG crediting programs found that more than 90% of its carbon credits used by companies to make such claims were largely inadequate, leading to follow-ups calling on the EU to disambiguate net zero claims. Unfortunately, neither the Commission’s Green Claims proposal nor any other EU law meets all these expectations, leaving a gap in the EU legislative puzzle.
Key policy recommendations for strengthening net zero claims
- Ensure the definition of net zero (claims) is aligned with scientific consensus: carbon credits generated from emission reductions and avoidance cannot be used to substantiate net zero claims; these claims can only be substantiated by credits generated from carbon removal.
- Enshrine into EU law the aim to pursue durable net zero while refining climate targets and the substantiation of net-zero claims to ensure that the extraction of carbon from the geosphere and biosphere is balanced with removals of equivalent character, like-for-like.
- Define what ‘hard-to-abate’ emissions are by setting an abatement cost threshold and establish a transparent process for classifying such emissions.
- Establish a transparent process for classifying emissions on a regular basis by empowering an agency to review and categorise emissions based on impact assessments and multi-stakeholder consultations. As technology evolves, costs reduce and circumstances change, so emissions will need to be re-classified.