Climate change issues appeared on the international agenda at a moment when development aid was being questioned on its ability to generate deep and effective change. Concepts such as “participation”, “civil society”, “capacity building”, “ownership” or “empowerment” proliferated in international aid policy, but they soon appeared as a succession of mere “buzzwords”. While each term initially referred to relatively precise framings with the potential to upset the political order, these concepts eventually lost their meaning once they were progressively mainstreamed. Put in perspective amid the history of development concepts and practice, this succession of buzzwords serves as a “perpetual present” of development agencies: they contribute to renewing promises for generating future change, and erasing the power, politics and continuous failures of development aid.