Deciphering Green Gibberish

What does it all mean?

The environmental space is a thicket of jargon, broad descriptors (‘circular’ economy’, ‘just’ transition’), which nestle next to concepts-held-together-by-hyphens (nature-based solutions and science-based targets), underpinned by peculiar acronyms (UNFCCC? WEEE? HFCs? NDCs?).

We’ll unpack these regularly for you – if there’s a specific bit of environmental gibberish you want help making sense of, get in touch.

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Green Gibberish Terms explained below:

  • IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the United Nations body tasked with assessing and summarising ALL OF THE SCIENCE relating to climate change on which governments at all levels base their decisions and climate policies on.

    The IPCC doesn’t do its own research – rather, it brings together everything that has been published in scientific journals to create the best possible overview of what we know. IPCC reports might constitute the most ambitious collaboration processes that exist anywhere. (If you’ve ever worked to get a piece of text signed off by a group of people, you might think it is a miracle anything gets published at all). IPCC scientists volunteer their time. Whilst individual governments don’t get to mess with the science, the final text of IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports has to be endorsed by IPCC member governments, (all 195 of them!), meaning that, on occasion, the language has ended up being more cautious and likely to understate possible impacts.

    The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (2018) had 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries, cited more than 6,000 scientific papers, and brought together thousands of experts and government reviewers, including the brilliant Diana Liverman, who sits on Julie’s Bicycle’s board of trustees and was one of the report’s co-authors. The next full IPCC ‘Assessment Report’ is due in June 2022.

  • In environmental circles, WEEE is not an exclamation of joy, but an abbreviation for ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment‘. We have a specific abbreviation for it because there are European and UK laws (the WEEE Directive) that govern how we dispose of and recycle WEEE, because of the complex range of materials including some hazardous substances it’s made from. E-waste is also a human rights issue. A lot of e-waste is illegally exported from the UK to countries in the global south, where people taking it apart for recycling can be exposed to health-harming chemicals without appropriate protective gear, and it can contaminate local soil or water.

    E-waste isn’t just electronics discarded by households – more e-waste comes from the supply chain. So while we should be aware of how we dispose of our electronics, this is also about buying less in the first place, sharing, fixing, buying things second-hand/refurbished, and asking for policy change to make things longer-lasting and more repairable (like the EU’s ‘right to repair’ rules).

    A few years ago, JB ran an ‘e-waste teardown’ together with the RSA’ s Great Recovery Project at which we invited people to take apart turntables, phones, Walkmen and more to better understand the stuff that ‘powers’ our music making and listening, and come up with ideas for shifting towards a circular economy.

    The WEEE Regulations cover most things that have a plug or need a battery. Don’t throw WEEE in your normal bins – bring it to a collection point (if you’re an individual) or hire a collection service that is WEEE compliant (if you’re a business getting rid of lots).

    And if you want to get creative, check out Colchester Arts Centre‘s ‘Cables Amnesty’ day organised by Creative Climate Leader Anthony Roberts, encouraging everyone to relinquish the box of cables we all have somewhere, gathering dust.

  • Climate justice is about where human rights, social justice and the climate and environmental movement intersect. It is the need to recognise climate change as a systemic issue, which is not purely environmental or scientific but also ethical and political. An issue which includes conversations about equity, colonialism and the disparity between distribution of resources and wealth. Climate justice connects up intergenerational issues and stewardship for future generations, it is about renewing the social contract to protect those most vulnerable, both locally and globally.

    To do this we need to acknowledge the history and legacies of violence against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour), and recognise and redress the fundamental inequalities, prejudice and oppression that exist today, meaning marginalised communities across the world are the worst and first affected by climate change and environmental disaster.

    On a global scale, it requires accountability and responsibility to be held by those predominantly more affluent nations who have caused the greatest carbon emissions and environmental harm.

    This protects the right for poorer countries, communities and individuals to develop and build resilience whilst requiring a fair allocation of resources, which the Principles of Environmental Justice highlights. For an account of addressing privilege in the environmental movement, read Chiara Badiali’s guide to climate racism red flags and associated resources.

  • The phrase “Just Transition is currently receiving a lot of airtime. And for very good reason. It should be obvious that social inequalities result in health inequalities; that the impacts of climate change generally hit “first and worst” on those most vulnerable, and who do the least to cause it… that the histories and legacies of violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour continue to this day – and remain manifest in the environmental movement.

    So what are the strategies put forward to counter this – to remedy and recompense these injustices? Very simply put, Just Transition refers to: decarbonising the economy fairly i.e. a green economy which overcomes injustices experienced by all workers, ensuring no people or places are left behind.

    As described by Climate Justice Alliance, the Just Transition is rooted in workers defining a transition away from polluting industries in alliance with fence-line and frontline communities… nowadays it represents: “a host of strategies to transition whole communities to build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance and ecological resilience”.

    However, like with so much “sustainability” language, it is backed by very different levels of ambition and can be used to obfuscate both root causes and systemic solutions. Helpfully, the Climate Justice Alliance has a brilliant set of principles to guide a truly Just Transition as well as a list of “false solutions” which can easily detract and derail efforts to tackle climate injustice. Read more.

    Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.” – Quinton Sankofa, Movement Generation

  • When it comes to your sustainability strategy, divestment can be a bit like everybody’s least favourite chocolate left lonely and forgotten at the bottom of the office sweetie tin. It can be a complex issue, wrapped in controversy and one that is hard to get stuck into. Toffee metaphors aside, divestment, put simply, is the opposite of investment.

    It is about taking back or refusing to contribute or receive resources (usually money) to a project or company for environmental or ethical reasons. Some recent examples of divestment campaigns come from environmental campaigners and members of the public putting pressure on banks, universities, and other large institutions to stop investing money in climate-damaging activities such as fossil fuel extraction, and instead, divert their investments to projects and organisations which match their values, sustainability strategies and net-zero ambitions.

    Pensions are another good example, much of the UK’s pension funds being tied up with environmentally damaging activities. ‘Make My Money Matter‘ and Share Action are campaigns that seek to move UK pensions into causes with positive social and environmental impacts. For inspiration, check out Culture Unstained and Platform London who have been leading and winning divestment campaigns, and the 2019 event ‘Take The Money and Run’, which discussed how the arts sector might engage with ethical and environmentally responsible funding models.

  • The global Covid lockdown has highlighted our increasing reliance on technology to allow us to work from home, stay connected with loved ones, and access learning, entertainment and events. But the immaterial nature of the digital world means we aren’t often aware of the environmental impacts of sending our colleagues an email, sharing memes with the group chat, or video calling our mums.

    If the internet was a country, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions it would be the sixth largest polluter. But where do these emissions come from?

    Digital emissions can be divided into four areas:

    • Devices (34%) – energy used to power our phones, tablets, desktops, wearables etc
    • Communication Networks (29%)- construction, operation and maintenance of networks for both mobile and fixed networks
    • Data Centres (21%) – construction, manufacture and operation of the centres that store all the data on the internet
    • Manufacture (16%) – energy for making all the equipment

    You can start to address these issues by looking at ways to measure your impacts. For some examples – EarthSpeakr by Studio Olafur Eliasson, is an international digital artwork project which has worked with JB to comprehensively scope out all measurable aspects of the artwork’s footprint. Fast Familiar, a participatory arts organisation, have written a case study explaining how they developed their first carbon-neutral project. You can also start to consider how you dispose of your e-waste, recycle your electrical items, and encourage your staff to switch energy provider to a renewable provider such as Good Energy.

    You can find out more about digital carbon footprints and how to mitigate them in our briefing on Creative Digital Impacts.

  • Ecocide literally means “killing the environment” and it relates to any crime resulting in mass damage or destruction to ecosystems, as well as serious harm to the health and well-being of inhabitant species, including humans. Environmental activists are campaigning for the crime of ecocide to become written into international law and be recognised by the United Nations. So that no crime against the natural living world would go unpunished, from ocean damage to deforestation, mineral extraction to deep sea mining. Campaigns such as ‘Stop Ecocide‘ are leading the movement to end ecocide damage which has been committed repeatedly over decades, and INTERPRT investigates environmental crimes using geospatial analysis, design and architectural methodologies. Their work actively supports criminalizing Ecocide as an international crime.

    If ecocide crimes are written into law, it will also determine who is responsible for environmental damage, from governments to corporations and individuals, ensuring they are criminally liable. Arguably you could say that some forms of ecocide – depending on your definition – are already recognised by UK law, such as the destruction of habitats and species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Many cases of ecocide have been committed repeatedly over decades, and cumulatively are directly linked to the climate and ecological emergency the world now faces.

  • Carbon ‘offsetting’ is the idea of ‘balancing’, ‘compensating’, or ‘neutralising’ the carbon emissions from a given activity, by paying into a scheme or project that will reduce emissions somewhere else. Offsetting investments are made in environmental and climate restoration projects such as tree planting, or renewable energy development schemes around the world. These schemes are not a magic solution, however. They can fall short of their promised climate benefits and may not always be as ethical as they seem. So any offsetting programme should be carefully researched and the use of a Gold Standard certified (or similar) carbon offset provider is recommended.

    Carbon offsetting has exploded in recent years, as organisations rush to make net zero carbon claims and individuals look for quick fixes to balance their carbon footprint by ‘offsetting’ the emissions they make. But it’s not possible to ‘net’ ourselves out of the current level of emissions already in the atmosphere without also making significant reductions. So offsetting should only ever be considered as a last resort.

  • Land and water are resources we depend upon for vital infrastructure development, from agriculture to sanitation. Land justice is about the historic unequal distribution of land, and the extraction of resources and displacement of people from that land. Today’s land justice movement is focused on land ownership laws, communal space, rewilding, food sovereignty and housing in the UK and across the world.

    Land justice is also deeply tied to the protection of nature and biodiversity. Worldwide species loss due to land use change, increasing temperatures, and environmental pollution is at a devastating high. Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the world’s population but safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. This is increasingly difficult to maintain as land is lost to deforestation, climate impacts such as sea level rise and wildfires, and policy which values private over communal ownership.

    In the UK, organisations like Land In Our Names work to provide access to land, nature and food systems for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), and in his book ‘Who Owns England?’, Guy Shrubsole explores the history of land ownership in England. Globally, organisations like The Green Belt Movement in Kenya are empowering communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods.

  • Net zero should mean zero emissions are created from areas such as energy generation, buildings, surface and road transport. Net zero is about making the largest possible reductions that you can make to your overall footprint, using all of the means available to you. You then ‘net out’ the remaining emissions through removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but only from sources such as aviation and agriculture which can not be avoided. ‘Net zero’ only allows you to neutralise these unavoidable emissions using projects that actively remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere – so there is a ‘net’ balancing out between what you put in and what is removed through natural carbon sinks and removal technology. Projects such as peatland and mangrove restoration, afforestation or direct carbon removal technology can be used to reach ‘net zero’. The market for ‘high quality’ net zero carbon credits is fast developing – there are serious concerns that the current boom in ‘net zero’ commitments will once again rely too much on buying credits rather than reducing emissions at source (mirroring issues with offsets that go back several decades). There is also a scale of ‘permanence’ – e.g. forestry projects are not really permanent removals/sinks, so we can argue that they shouldn’t be used as net zero commitments either.

    Most importantly, it is the level of emissions reductions that really matters, and having a transformative sustainability strategy. This is because there is not enough land or greenhouse gas removal technology in the world to ‘net out’ current levels of emissions.

    A net zero commitment is not the same as zero carbon, or zero emissions, which means that no greenhouse gas emissions are emitted. A net zero commitment, instead, requires that all remaining greenhouse gas emissions are ‘balanced’ – removed – with an equivalent amount via offsets that remove or capture carbon from the atmosphere, such as peatland preservation, or carbon capture technologies. For a net zero commitment to be meaningful it cannot rely on offsetting as a main strategy. There is a finite capacity for carbon removal and we need absolute reductions.

  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) are proposals outlining each country’s own aims and plans of action for reducing National greenhouse gas emissions and outlines suggested routes to adapt to a changed climate. These pledges to act to reduce emissions are a central part of the Paris Agreement (made in 2015 at COP21, and explained here), whereby each participating country would set out their own plan for decarbonising their economies, and monitor and share progress towards achieving these goals. NDC’s are submitted by all participating countries every 5 years as part of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process, outlined in the Paris Agreement.

    The planned reductions are combined to assess 3 areas: global efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; whether plans are sufficient to stay within the global temperature goal (1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels), and; whether they are being achieved in reality. Every 5 years countries are expected to report on their progress, but also to raise their ambitions, updating their plans to be able to decarbonise to meet the global temperature goal.

    This agreement was updated in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ during 2021’s COP26 summit, where countries are ‘requested’ to revisit and strengthen their climate pledges by the end of 2022. This goes beyond the Paris Agreement for updating pledges every 5 years, to place an expectation on countries to raise their ambitions next year. This is critical, because the next round of NDC’s will cover the period from 2031 onwards, and at the moment there is a large gap between current pledges to 2030, and the 1.5 degree goal. There remains only the narrowest of opportunities to keep 1.5 degrees within reach, which makes increasing ambitions imperative to the success of the Paris Agreement.

  • This is a highly complicated and technical part of the Paris Agreement, which essentially sets out the framework for voluntary global cooperation on trading emissions reductions – also referred to as international ‘carbon markets’ or in technical Article 6 language ‘Internationally Traded Emissions Outcomes’ (ITMO’s) – to enable countries to reduce their emissions and meet the pledges set out in their NDC’s (Nationally Determined Contributions – see explainer 11 above).

    The intention is to establish a fair system, where countries that find it more difficult to absorb carbon emissions (for example, due to lack of land area and natural carbon sinks), can gain credit for paying for reductions in other countries where carbon can be absorbed or captured more easily or cheaply. The overachieving countries that are capturing carbon in excess of their National pledges could then be paid for their efforts by other countries. Done well, this supports the aims of Net Zero globally and presents an opportunity for a win-win for emitters and those offering effective carbon reduction solutions. But done badly, it could let the big emitters ‘off the hook’ from making meaningful cuts to their emissions, by double counting of carbon credits or trading fictional emissions reductions. Getting the rules for carbon markets right is essential to the success of the Paris Agreement. There are several sub-sections of Article 6 governing different aspects of the agreement. Achievements in the agreement on Article 6 made at COP26 are summarised here.

  • Loss and damage is essentially about responding to climate change impacts. These are the impacts that cannot be prevented through climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. ‘Losses’ are seen as permanent losses that cannot be recovered – for example life loss, biodiversity and species loss or loss of cultural heritage – while ‘Damage’ refers to impacts that may be able to be repaired or restored. Ultimately, as a result of shortcomings in both mitigation policy, and inadequate action and support for adaptation in communities already experiencing the biggest impacts from climate change, the need to deal with Loss and Damage is rising up the political agenda. There is a need to support those most impacted by climate change through both technical support and finance. Key to this issue is who takes responsibility for these losses, with calls for reparations from richer countries to poorer ones for historical emissions.

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