29 Mar 2021

Credibility of Net Zero Claims

By Paul Lewis
fields with wind turbines

Over the last 18 months, the phrase “Net Zero” has become the only credible conclusion to any carbon or climate strategy. And rightly so: keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees requires it.

A Global 1.5 degree pathway, was established as desired within the Paris Agreement in 2015 and then the IPCC Special Report in 2018 concluded that “limiting temperature rise to around 1.5 degrees and preventing the worst impacts of climate change implies reaching net zero emissions of CO2 by mid-century along with deep reductions in non-CO2 emissions”

Today the wave of organisations signing up to Net Zero commitments is accelerating. A recent report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit and Oxford Net Zero cited that 21% of the world’s largest 2000 corporates have now committed to net-zero targets, and this figure is growing quickly.

Pressure on CEOs to act is mounting daily as a Net Zero target fast becomes a moral licence to operate for organisations: shareholders, employees and customers are demanding it. We should celebrate that the subject of Net Zero has moved firmly onto the desk of marketers looking to “leverage the claim”.

However, there is concern about the robustness and potential “greenwashing” issues around Net Zero. Setting medium to long term goals aligned with science drive important actions, but without immediate action, long-term goals will remain out of reach.

In the run-up to COP26, this year’s UN climate change summit in Glasgow, the spotlight will be firmly on organisations to have a Net Zero commitment, and one that is robust and credible. Unfortunately, all too many are not.

Seismic has 5 guiding principles to help ensure that your Net Zero commitments are sound, in line with the climate science, and defendable against the inevitable scrutiny that will be endured when the “claim” is made:

  1. Boundary: This topic is frequently discussed. Value chains are often complex, data hard to obtain and challenging to calculate, but including Scope 3 as well as Scope 1 and 2 emissions is required.
  2. The Pathway: Only a 1.5 degree pathway or better is acceptable as the scientific link between emissions and the catastrophic effects of warming becomes ever clearer. If the Net Zero target is far into the future, then an SBTi approved Net Zero target assures that a target is in line with climate science. A 2050 timeline for large and complex organisations may still be defendable, but most organisations are looking at 2040, 2030 or a 2025 timeline.
  3. Transparency: clearly communicate the methodology within the Net Zero target, the boundary, the timeline and the milestones within it.
  4. Mitigation Hierarchy (in line with the IEMA “Pathway to Net Zero”):
    a. Eliminate emissions within own operations and supply chain where possible & practical
    b. Reduce emissions through efficiency in operations, processes, fleet etc.
    c. Substitute existing carbon sources through adopting renewables / low carbon technologies
    d. Compensate “unavoidable” residual emissions through high quality and robust offsetting or insetting
  5. Accountability: Set interim science-based emissions reduction targets to drive action within natural corporate and investment cycles

The future of Robust Net Zero targets

The Science-based Targets Initiative (SBTI) are developing the first science-based global standard for corporate net-zero targets, will be finalised by November 2021 intime for the COP26. A draft for consultation was published in January 2021. https://sciencebasedtargets.org/resources/files/Net-Zero-Criteria-Draft-for-Public-Consultation-v1-0.pdf

COP26 will provide important clarity for the SBTI and other Net Zero frameworks, that may well mean an “upgrade” in rigour for many existing Net Zero targets. Beyond that, the criteria and scrutiny for Net Zero targets will only tighten over time and organisations that haven’t started on the journey already will ultimately pay the most for the transition.

For more information please contact: [email protected]