How to ensure global net zero pledges really work

The path to Net Zero for global corporations is mired in controversies related to greenwashing, green-hushing and even green-botching.

The path to Net Zero for global corporations is mired in controversies related to greenwashing, green-hushing and even green-botching. An expert group appointed by the UN Secretary-General says there is a way to change this for the better.

Concept

A few years ago, the Paris Agreement set in motion the path towards achieving reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reaching as close to net zero as possible by 2050. A series of ambitious pledges followed, and many actors invested seriously in climate change. But we’re still far away from achieving those targets.

A high-level expert group report on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities revealed that many of these pledges are not aligned with science and do not have enough details to be credible.  

90% of the world is covered by net zero targets, either at the national level or with businesses or cities and regions. So that’s the good news. The bad news is, it understates the challenge that we have in front of us,”  

“We are nowhere near where we need to be yet. And some targets are even misleading consumers, investors, and the public.” 

“You can’t just advertise that you’re amazing. You have to do the hard work, which isn’t glamorous. It’s very hard to reduce emissions and transform an entire business.” 

Catherine McKenna, Chair, High‑level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.
Net Zero in on the data 

The report lays out 10 criteria for evaluating whether private sector net zero pledges are credible. It recommends that pledges have, medium, and long-term absolute emissions reduction targets.   

“Measure, measure, measure! When we talk about climate change, the good thing is that you can measure it. You need to have science-based targets based on 1.5 degrees of warming, have a transition plan, and say how are you going to reduce your emissions. You need to show how you’re spending your money and increasing it in going clean and disclose transparently,”

Catherine McKenna, Chair, High‑level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.

Net zero transition plans, the expert committee says, should be comprehensive, actionable, and consistent with IPCC or IEA net zero greenhouse gas emissions modeled pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C. They should also have limited or no overshoot with global net zero targets, and align governance and incentive structures, capital expenditures, research and development, skills and human resource development, and public advocacy. The committee also recommends that net zero plans should be updated every five years and that progress reporting should be done on an annual basis. 

Of fossil fuels, carbon credits, and lobbies 

There are also some actions that should not be part of a credible net-zero pledge, McKenna explains.

“You cannot invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure and reduce your emissions by buying cheap credits, which often lack integrity and have unintended consequences. You cannot lobby governments against good climate policy, including policy that you would need to meet your own targets”. 

Catherine McKenna, Chair, High‑level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities

The UN report recommends that all net zero pledges include specific targets aimed at ending the use of and/or support for fossil fuels in line with IPCC and IEA pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C. It also states that companies must prioritize urgent and deep reduction of emissions across their value chain, using high integrity carbon credits in voluntary markets for beyond value chain mitigation. Finally, companies should disclose their trade associations and align their engagement and external policy, and lobby for positive climate action and not lobby against it. 

A huge responsibility goes to the corporate world, especially the large emitters because they are responsible for a huge percentage of emissions. They need to disclose transparently so they can be held accountable.

Catherine McKenna, Chair, High‑level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities

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When in doubt, disclose 

With more responsibility comes more disclosure. The report advocates that companies annually disclose their greenhouse gas data and other relevant information against their baseline along with comparable data to enable effective tracking of progress toward their net-zero targets. It emphasizes that reported emissions reductions and progress on net zero be verified by independent third parties. 

The report also highlights the need for multinational corporations and financial institutions to participate in initiatives such as Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) that aim to bridge the gap between developed and developing nations by providing access to renewable, clean energy.

While South Africa was the first beneficiary of the JETP financing mechanism, Vietnam, India, and Indonesia have since followed suit with the donor pool including several developed countries, multilateral development banks, national development banks, and development finance agencies.

Last but not least, the report suggests standardizing and sprucing up the regulatory framework by setting up a task force of international regulators. 

“You can’t just advertise that you’re amazing. You have to do the hard work, which isn’t glamorous. It’s very hard to reduce emissions and transform an entire business. It is required of everyone – government, businesses, and individuals as well. But a huge responsibility goes to the corporate world, especially the large emitters because they are responsible for a huge percentage of emissions. They need to disclose transparently so they can be held accountable,”

Catherine McKenna, Chair, High‑level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities

Source: Wärtsilä

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