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Climate negative or positive: What is the difference?

Climate negative or positive: What is the difference?

Story by Pierce Thompson (C2Zero)

If you listen to the media (generally a bad idea), there are two distinct sides of the fence to climate change. The pot-smoking, sign wielding Extinction Rebellion side and the coal-burning, money-hoarding capitalist side.

The fact is, most of us sit in the middle and want to do our part to help the planet without selling all our possessions and moving into a commune.

But you can’t do your bit without knowing the lingo. So here is a quick rundown of some basic climate terms that your teacher should have told you about at school (thanks, Australian education system).

Let’s start at the start.

Greenhouse Gases

This is the entire principle of Climate Change. When the sun’s heat hits the Earth, a good chunk of it is reflected back off into space. Our atmosphere (made up of several different gases) traps a percentage of this heat and keeps Earth at a temperature we humans like to be at.

Certain gases are better at trapping the heat than others so when the makeup of our atmosphere changes, due to processes like manufacturing or agriculture, our atmosphere can trap more heat, which leads to climate change.


The Mac Daddy of Greenhouse Gases and the one that gets talked about the most. Technically the term carbon is incorrect although its usage is very common. The form we’re talking about is CO2. When Uncle Scomo sells some coal that then gets burned overseas, the combustion process turns carbon in the coal and oxygen in the air into CO2.

All other greenhouse gases can be compared to carbon using CO2e (their equivalent to CO2). Most of these are worse than CO2 but are less prevalent in the atmosphere. The table below shows their Global Warming Potential when compared to that of CO2 (1). If you see anyone releasing a bunch of Carbon Tetrafluoride, you might want to tell them to stop.

Carbon Negative

When is a negative a good thing?

When it’s carbon we’re talking about.

Anything that’s Carbon Negative removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces in the manufacturing process. Our recent Carbon Negative footballs are like this as we create around 4.2 - 4.4 kg of CO2 in making them, but then remove 5kg with the help of C2Zero.

We buy Carbon Emissions Allowances (the permission slips big companies like Oil and Gas need in order to pollute) and lock them away, preventing pollution that would have been created from ever happening. If we want to keep global temperatures at a manageable level, Carbon Negative is the only way forward right now.

Carbon Neutral

This is the one you’ve probably heard the most about. Politicians and companies love to bang on about it. This basically means that whatever you’re talking about (product, country, company) emits the same amount of carbon as they clean up.

It’s not making things worse it’s but not making them better. It sounds like it’s a good thing so lots of companies do it. It’s too late to just go carbon neutral though.

Even with every Carbon Neutral pledge in place today, temperatures will still rise nearly 2°C by 2100.

Carbon Positive

Not to be confused with Climate Positive, this means that something emits more CO2 than it cleans up. You won’t hear this one very much because nobody wants to brag about how much they’re polluting.

Carbon Credits

A bit of a tricky one. In theory, Carbon Credits are great and allow you to buy the carbon saved from green projects like planting trees or carbon sequestration.

In reality, a lot of carbon credit providers are pretty shady and will offer things like the carbon stored in already existing trees, trees that were never going to be cut down in the first place.

If you’re buying Carbon Credits, do your research first to make sure that the CO2 savings they’re claiming are additive (on top of what was already existing).


So there you have it, a breakdown of Climate Change’s most basic terms. What would you like to hear about next in the sustainability space?

Drop us a comment below and our next article could be just for you!

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