BONN, Germany (AP) — A growing number of companies pledge to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” as part of global efforts to tackle climate change, but that goal is rarely backed by a credible plan, according to a report published Monday.
The idea behind net zero is to stop adding planet-warming gas to the atmosphere, either by preventing the emissions in the first place or by removing an equivalent amount through natural or technological means. Scientists say the world must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.
The net zero target has gained momentum in recent years. While 149 countries have such targets, compared to 124 at the end of 2020, the number of publicly traded companies aiming for net zero has risen from 417 to 929, according to the Net Zero Stocktake report compiled by experts from four independent research organizations.
“You see cities talking about net zero, companies talking about net zero. And when you go to supermarkets, you see carbon neutral or carbon neutral products,” said Takeshi Kuramochi, one of the report’s authors. “But then you don’t know what exactly they mean and whether they really contribute to this transition to global net-zero emissions.”
Unlike national targets, the criteria for net zero effort at the sub-national or firm level are not clearly defined.
The authors decided to apply a basic checklist to corporate claims, based on a United Nations campaign called Race to Zero. This includes setting interim targets and covering all emissions for which a company is responsible, including those caused by the use of its products.
Less than 5% of the companies surveyed passed the test, said Kuramochi, a senior climate policy researcher at Germany-based NewClimate Institute.
Questionable claims about their environmental efforts have recently provoked a number of companies, with fossil fuel companies in particular being accused of greenwashing by expending some of the emissions caused by their company – specifically the burning of oil and gas by consumers. close their count.
Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority last week criticized Spanish oil and gas company Repsol for an advertisement about its net-zero plans that was “likely to mislead consumers”. A complaint against energy giant Shell was also upheld, with the agency saying advertisements failed to make clear how much of the company’s business results in high emissions.
“Evidence of misleading or outright greenwashing climate claims, provided by independent research, will only increase in the future,” Kuramochi said. “I expect many more lawsuits in the coming years.”
He said it may be more effective for companies to focus on achieving the biggest emissions reductions they can as quickly as possible, rather than using creative accounting to meet net-zero targets.
“If they have to commit to more robust and transparent goals, that would be better than outright greenwashing in the name of net zero,” Kuramochi said.
The report was prepared by experts from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit at the University of North Carolina Data-Driven EnviroLab, the NewClimate Institute and Oxford Net Zero.
It follows a separate peer-reviewed study published last week in the journal Science that raised questions about the credibility of net-zero targets at the national level.
The authors say taking government pledges at face value risks exaggerating the likelihood that warming could be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Taking into account current policies and only those net zero targets considered “high confidence,” the world would be on track to become 2.4 degrees (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than its average at the end of the 19th century, they found, causing the damaging effects of climate change.
The study, released by negotiators from nearly 200 countries holding UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, proposes that national zero-plans should be legislated, set a clear path with short-term goals and include sector-specific targets.
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