Science

A third of the world’s largest companies now have ambitious

Since this time last year, many more countries and large companies have now pledged to reduce their net emissions to zero, but the details on how they plan to achieve it are still lacking

Environment



10 June 2022

Wind turbine

Net zero pledges are easy to make but hard to follow through

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

More than a third of the world’s largest public companies, along with countries representing most of the world’s economy, now have targets to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions to zero. However, many of these “net-zero” pledges are lacking basic details about how they will be achieved or verified.

A research consortium called the Net Zero Tracker took stock of the publicly available climate pledges of more than 4000 entities, including publicly trading companies, cities, states and countries. What emerged was “a good news story, in that net-zero pledges have become mainstream, says Steve Smith at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative.

Since the consortium first went through this exercise in March 2021, there has been a significant improvement. Countries representing 91 per cent of the global economy have made net-zero pledges compared to just 68 per cent last year. Those pledges now apply to countries that create 83 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and are home to 80 per cent of the world’s population, up from 61 per cent and 52 per cent last year, respectively.

Corporations too have made improvements as only a fifth of companies tracked by the researchers had announced plans for net zero by the end of 2020, compared to a third now. Nearly half of fossil fuel companies had made net-zero pledges. Companies representing the carbon-intensive materials and transportation industries also had targets above the average.

While ambition has grown, how it will be achieved and how progress will be confirmed remains unclear. According to the report, “an alarming lack of credibility still pervades the entire landscape,” whether it’s lack of information on how carbon offsets will be used to meet targets or a lack of interim goals.

This raises concerns that otherwise laudable net-zero promises are a way of “taking attention away from doing stuff in the near term,” says Smith.

To improve the quality, and not merely the quantity of net-zero targets, the report suggests extending regulations to clearly define what commitments and reporting mechanisms should be required to make a net-zero pledge.

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