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The EU will ban sweeping environmental claims such as “climate neutral” or “eco” by 2026 unless companies can prove the claim is accurate, as the bloc cracks down on greenwashing of consumer products.

The rules, agreed late Tuesday, will also outlaw claims based on emissions offsetting — often used as the basis for assertions that products are carbon neutral or have reduced environmental impact — along with green labels that are not from approved sustainability schemes.

The change, due to come into force by 2026, would make the EU the toughest region of the world in terms of its approach to green claims made to the public. It still requires approval from the EU parliament and member states, but it is rare for EU lawmakers to refuse that approval.

“We are clearing the chaos of environmental claims,” said the socialist lawmaker Biljana Borzan, who led negotiations for the European parliament on the law.

The rules say “generic environmental claims” that could be banned include phrases such as “green”, “nature’s friend”, “energy efficient” and “biodegradable”, unless the products can demonstrate “excellent environmental performance”.

Climate NGOs have long pointed to misleading claims made across consumer sectors. In October, Carbon Market Watch published an investigation of the claim by the 2022 Fifa World Cup to be “carbon neutral”, saying that the organisers’ estimate of emissions from the event in Qatar did not “accurately represent the tournament’s actual footprint”.

Lindsay Otis, policy expert on global carbon markets at Carbon Market Watch, said the EU agreement was “a big step towards more honest commercial practices and more informed European consumers”.

“A ban on carbon neutral claims is great news for consumers. There is no such thing as ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘CO₂ neutral’ cheese, plastic bottles, flights or bank accounts,” said Ursula Pachl, deputy director of the European consumer organisation BEUC.

“Carbon neutral claims are greenwashing . . . The truth is that these claims are scientifically incorrect and should never be used.”

The EU rules are part of a wider effort to overhaul the bloc’s economy in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050. But the effort to cut greenwashing comes amid a political pushback against climate legislation in Brussels, as the European Commission tries to complete the final elements of its Green Deal climate law before EU-wide elections in June 2024.

Several proposals are likely to be watered down or shelved, said officials close to the talks, including new rules on animal welfare and regulations aiming to create greener food systems through new labelling schemes and better governance.

Conservative politicians have begun campaigning against climate regulation ahead of the June elections, arguing that the burden on industry and farmers in particular is too high. They want existing and planned legislation eased.

The law on green claims is also expected to send a signal to controversial carbon offsetting schemes, which in some cases have been shown to lack credibility; some direct their funds to projects that fail to remove or store carbon emissions for long periods of time.

Elisa Martellucci, programme manager at the Environmental Coalition on Standards, said that climate neutrality claims based on carbon offsetting often “rely on flawed carbon accounting practices”.

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