Climate science and the depth of the climate emergency demand that industries, financial institutions, cities, and regions commit fully to real net-zero targets, end new fossil fuel investment, stop greenwashing their activities, start lobbying for rather than against ambitious government climate policies, and shift from voluntary climate action to regulated, verified emission reductions, according to a UN expert panel chaired by former Canadian environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna.
The report of the High-level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, was released yesterday during the COP 27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. It stresses that the “confluence of crises” that has backgrounded its work since March, 2022—the economic impacts of the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine, inflation and energy security concerns, and a global wave of extreme climate events—makes the case for speeding up the shift off fossil fuels, not slowing it down.
“While some with vested interest in the status quo have suggested that efforts to achieve net-zero should be slowed on account of these crises, most recognize the interrelationship between these crises and the reality that accelerated climate action offers critical benefits, ranging from community health to energy and food security,” the report states. “It’s clear that now is not the time to slow down, but to double down, on investments in equitable access to renewable energy and nature protection—especially in developing countries—and on efforts by non-state actors to reach net-zero. While climate change is a threat multiplier, well-designed efforts to mitigate it can be a solution multiplier, enhancing food and energy security, equity, and affordability.”
In a media briefing Tuesday from Sharm el-Sheikh, McKenna said the report challenges companies to adopt science-based climate targets, “show the work” by publishing transition plans with short- as well as long-term targets, and disclose their progress transparently and publicly based on standardized reporting methods.
“You cannot lift up your hand and say you’re going to be net-zero and be a climate leader and be investing in new fossil fuel supply,” McKenna said. “That’s just the science.” And “you can’t be just meeting targets by buying cheap credits that often lack integrity, rather than doing the hard work of reducing emissions yourself.” Having fossil companies buy up cheap carbon offsets that have negative impacts on Indigenous communities is “one of the most glaring examples,” she added, and “paying very little to continue to pollute while having a harmful impact” is not the way to get emissions under control.
Future emission reduction targets must also include downstream or Scope 3 emissions that can account for as much as 95% of a firm’s climate impact, the expert group concluded. McKenna said those results should be reported on an accessible, public database, where investors and consumers can “see which companies are actually walking the walk”.
She added that some countries will move from voluntary to regulated standards more quickly than others. “If you take climate action as a competitive advantage, and a risk if you aren’t transitioning your economy as a country to a low-carbon future, then you would be wanting to introduce these measures.” But while some voluntary initiatives eventually spawn legally-mandated requirements, “there’s a limit to enforcement,” she said. “So regulation levels the playing field.”