Both companies and politicians can certainly ‘talk the talk’ but are they ‘walking the walk’? This could be the decade we save the planet. But we must follow through on the promises, policies, and collaborative effort needed to protect nature from collapse.

The airline industry is doing their best to convince us that they are achieving carbon neutral but look at the small print. British Airways said in a recent press release that they would make all flights within the UK carbon neutral from 1 January 2020. Wonderful news, have they started using sustainable aviation fuel or even testing electric powered or assisted engines. No, but the aviation industry is working on it, but it’s a good few years away at the moment. To quote BA, they are working to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Discourses of delay

What they are doing, is what many companies are doing, they are investing in carbon reduction projects, in other words supporting someone else, certainly better than doing nothing but it’s still shifting responsibility to a third party. Note that in the majority of airline cases, the support to carbon neutral offset companies is not part of your airfare, you pay extra for it. It costs them nothing, but it looks good.

To quote The Guardian again, ‘In a paper published in the journal Global Sustainability last July, economist William Lamb and nearly a dozen co-authors catalogued the most common messaging from those who would prefer to see inaction on climate for as long as possible. According to Lamb’s team, the industry’s “discourses of delay” fall into four buckets: redirect responsibility (consumers are also to blame for fossil fuel emissions), push non-transformative solutions (disruptive change is not necessary), emphasize the downside of action (change will be disruptive), and surrender (it’s not possible to mitigate climate change)’.

In other words, find ways out of actually doing something. Perhaps the most perceptive observation is ‘blame the consumer’. Sadly, in many ways we are to blame. We all know aviation is a substantial contribution to global warming, but we still prefer to fly. Reality check, Airlines' CO2 emissions are rising up to 70 percent faster than predicted.

Carbon offsetting is big business

It becomes clear that many companies and governments want you to believe that they are ‘warriors’ for carbon neutrality, but the reality is somewhat different. There are now major companies who will sell carbon offset services to anyone who wants them, they help big companies look good while not actually doing anything themselves.

Last week the British government secretly dropped a series of climate pledges in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia, leaked emails appear to show. Business comes first, yet again. A section that referenced the “Paris Agreement temperature goals” was deleted from the accord after pressure from the Australian government

But what about the UK’s commitment to become carbon neutral.

UK planning to open a new coal mine

The Guardian recently wrote, “A casual social media user might get the impression the fossil fuel industry views itself as a social justice warrior, fighting on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and women – at least based on its marketing material in recent years”.

Last May UK journalist Rebecca Willis discovered that Cumbria County council have been helping a company with plans for a new coalmine, to produce coking coal for steel production. This would be the first new deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years, and the only active one: the last of the old ones closed in 2015. Digging up coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – is no definition of climate leadership. Yet just a couple of weeks later, Cumbria County council’s planning committee voted unanimously in favour of the mine. Read her article here for more details.

The UK local government secretary Robert Jenrick has now ordered a public enquiry. I believe the public would give a very short sharp answer to that proposal, unless they want to send people back down mines to pollute the atmosphere. Of course it could be argued that this would be good for farming. Hungry coal miners will want to eat lots of beef. Tricky as cattle are the No. 1 agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide. Each year, a single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane.

The environmental credentials of one of the worlds best known burger chains who claim “carbon-neutral” burgers have been questioned after it emerged the fast-food chain was using controversial carbon offsets to make the claim.

How is Portugal doing?

There isn’t a country in the world that’s on track to reduce emissions to the extent needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit. The Climate Change Performance Index, produced by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, ranks countries based on their greenhouse gas emissions, emissions-reduction efforts, energy efficiency, renewable energy portfolios, and policies aimed at slowing climate change. Portugal scores third. Just to see how good that is, The U.S. ranked 40th out the 58 countries on the Climate Change Performance Index, just three spots above China

Portugal aims to be climate neutral by 2050 and to cover 80 percent of its power consumption with renewables by 2030.

Portugal committed to close all the country's coal producing facilities by 2030, making it almost completely reliant on renewable energy in the coming years. As of 2019, coal still provided 40 percent of Portugal's power needs. As of April 2021, only a single coal power plant was still in operation, with closure slated for November of 2021.

The EDP operated Sines's power plant was closed on the 15th of January 2021, nearly ten years earlier than initially forecasted. The plant was responsible for 12 percent of all greenhouse emissions in Portugal, and its closure meant the biggest decrease in polluting emissions in the country's history. The Pego's plant will be the only coal-fired operating facility functioning, doing so until November 2021, the date predicted for its closure.

You don’t have to drive far to see solar energy plants being installed throughout the country. The UK is opening coal mines, Portugal is closing them. The facts speak for themselves.

When governments and companies tell you how much they are doing to achieve being carbon neutral, look at the small print!