Net Zero Jargon Buster
27 Feb 2023

Net Zero Jargon Buster

Talk of Climate Change and Climate Action can often be full of confusing, and sometimes misleading, jargon that often lacks a universally agreed definition. We’ve collected a few of the more complicated key terms and definitions both used here at NZG and more widely in the environmental business and legislative world for your reference. Hopefully this will help you be more comfortable with understanding ‘climate-speak’, at whatever stage of your climate journey you may be on.

Embodied Carbon

The emissions involved in the creation of a product or asset, in contrast to the emissions involved in its operation. For example, the embodied carbon of a car is the carbon emitted in its pre-use phase (e.g. the extraction/transport of raw materials and the car’s manufacture).

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

The government produces annual conversion factors organisations can use to measure their carbon footprint, represented in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The factors allow ‘activity data’, such as distance travelled, litres of fuel used or tonnes of waste disposed, to be converted into corresponding greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol

The most widely used international accounting tool for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, and manage their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

LCA is a technique for assessing the environmental impact of a product over the course of its life, from raw material extraction to manufacturing to use to final disposal. See also cradle-to-cradle / cradle-to-grave.

Mandatory Reporting

A UK policy which mandates ‘quoted companies’ (those that are UK incorporated and whose equity share capital is officially listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange) to report their annual greenhouse gas emissions in their directors’ report. By measuring and reporting these emissions, manufacturers can begin to set targets and put in place carbon management initiatives to reduce emissions in the future.

SECR (Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting) - S3 Lite

SECR is a regulation that requires all large UK companies and LLPs, as well as quoted companies, to publicly disclose on their annual energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency actions they have taken. Smaller businesses can also take part on a voluntary basis. Net Zero Group has developed a NetScope package which allows a company to measure the exact categories in order to create an SECR baseline report, or if an SECR report has been completed previously by the reporting company for previous reporting years, we can provide subsequent comparative SECR reports.

Public Procurement Note (PPN)

Procurement Policy Note (PPN), a UK Government amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008 in 2019, sets out how to take account of suppliers’ Net Zero Carbon Reduction Plans in the procurement of major Government contracts.

Action Note PPN (06/21)

Carbon Reduction Plans must meet the required standard as set out by the supporting guidance to this PPN. This includes, but is not limited to:

• Confirming the bidding supplier’s commitment to achieving Net Zero by 2050 for their UK operations. • Providing the supplier’s current emissions for the sources included in Scope 1 and 2 of the GHG Protocol, and a defined subset of Scope 3 emissions. • Providing emissions reporting in CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) for the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. • Setting out the environmental management measures in effect, including certification schemes or specific carbon reduction measures you have adopted, and that you will be able to apply when performing the contract and that support achieving Net Zero by 2050. • Publication of the CRP on the supplier’s website.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutral means reducing carbon emissions to the point where a balance can be reached between the amount of carbon being emitted and the amount being removed from the atmosphere through practices such as carbon capture or carbon offsetting.

It is often used interchangeably with other terms such as climate neutral or net zero, although there can be subtle differences in their meaning. Climate neutral and net zero usually cover all greenhouse gas emissions, but carbon neutral sometimes only relates to CO2 emissions. For example, Greater Manchester’s target to become carbon neutral by 2038 only covers CO2.

Net Zero

Net Zero Carbon is where an organisation reduces GHG emissions as close to zero as possible, and then offset/sequester residual GHG emissions. A Net Zero target is often selected as the end-goal to drive emissions reductions within an organisation or nation.

Net zero must be aligned with broader sustainable development objectives, which implies an equitable net-zero transition, socio-ecological sustainability and the pursuit of broad economic opportunities.

Types of Climate ambition include:

1. a stabilised level of atmospheric concentrations (for example, in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).

2. a percentage emissions reduction target (for example, in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol).

Net zero is intrinsically a scientific concept. If the objective is to keep the rise in global average temperatures within certain limits, physics implies that there is a finite budget of carbon dioxide that is allowed into the atmosphere, alongside other greenhouse gases. Beyond this budget, any further release must be balanced by removal into sinks.

Unavoidable Emissions

Not able to be avoided, prevented, or ignored. SBTi definition of residual emissions relates to what is left once long-term targets have been reached.

Zero Carbon

Reducing emissions to absolute zero (in contrast to net zero, which involves a degree of offsetting to balance out emissions). In practice, this is extremely difficult for most organisations to achieve overall but it is possible for some processes or activities, such as zero carbon power through renewable energy.

Zero carbon may refer to both carbon emissions only or greenhouse gas emissions as a whole (see carbon neutral for more information).

Sectoral Decarbonisation

Sectoral decarbonisation is the reduction strategy based on the relative contribution to the total sector activity and an entity’s initial carbon intensity relative to the sector’s intensity.

Priority Sectors:

• Energy, including coal, oil, and gas; • Utilities, with a focus on power and gas supply; • Materials in specific steel and cement; • Transport, including aviation, shipping, and heavy- and light-duty road travel


The Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) scheme provides transparency to consumers about the proportion of electricity that supplies source from renewable generation. In the EU this is called a Guarantee of Origin GoOs (GoO).

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A UN document which features 17 sustainability goals and 169 smaller targets, including pledges to protect the world’s oceans, improve water management and the energy system, and take urgent action on climate change. The overarching aim of the document is to ‘end poverty’. Delegates from 194 member states adopted the agreement in September 2015.

Science-Based Targets (SBTi)

Science-based targets are corporate greenhouse gas emissions targets that have been made in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) does not recognise carbon offsetting as part of an organisation’s science-based pathway.

Near-term science-based targets: Near-term science-based targets outline what companies will do now, and over the next 5-10 years, to reduce emissions in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Long-term science-based targets: Long-term science-based targets show the degree of emission reductions needed for companies to reach net-zero before 2050 in line with keeping global temperatures to 1.5°C. This level of emission reductions is sometimes called “residual emissions”. Under the Net-Zero Standard, most companies are required to reduce emissions by at least 90% to reach net-zero. A company can reach net-zero when it has achieved its long-term science-based target. A company cannot balance its emissions with removals ahead of that and claim to be net-zero.

What is the True Definition of ‘Sustainability’?

The United Nations defines sustainability as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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