Energy & Environment

Largest companies’ ‘net-zero’ promises avoid meaningful, immediate cuts: analysis

Twenty-five major companies that have pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions will reach a reduction of only 40 percent of their emissions, according to an analysis released Monday by the environmental organizations NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch.

In their Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, the groups determined that a number of major companies with zero-emissions pledges conceal information or use accounting sleight of hand to present more ambitious goals.

The organizations cite Amazon as an example, finding that the company was unclear on the scope of its targets or whether they applied only to carbon dioxide or to all greenhouse gas emissions. The report also faults the retail giant for transparency on how it plans to decarbonize its downstream scope 3 emissions, or those produced by company assets used outside the company, which comprise 19.5 percent of emissions, making it harder to assess the pledge’s practical value.

“As part of our goal to reach net-zero carbon by 2040, Amazon is on a path to powering our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025—five years ahead of our original target of 2030,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. They pointed to the company’s goal of delivering half of all shipments with net-zero emissions by the end of the decade as well as its deployment of 100,000 electrified delivery vehicles.

Meanwhile, American-Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis scored “very low” on both the transparency and integrity of its pledge, according to the environmental organizations. The company plans to offset 65 percent of its emissions rather than reduce them, which the report describes as a “highly contentious” method of achieving carbon neutrality with ample opportunity to mislead. The company is also insufficiently transparent on the emissions involved through its supply chain, according to the report.

“We set out to uncover as many replicable good practices as possible, but we were frankly surprised and disappointed at the overall integrity of the companies’ claims” lead author Thomas Day of NewClimate Institute said in a statement. “As pressure on companies to act on climate change rises, their ambitious-sounding headline claims all too often lack real substance, which can mislead both consumers and the regulators that are core to guiding their strategic direction. Even companies that are doing relatively well exaggerate their actions.”

Novartis pushed back on the report.

“We do not agree with report’s assessment of our performance and the integrity of our reporting. We publish all the information sought by the researchers transparently and follow the standard reporting frameworks as embedded in the CDP questionnaire,” a Novartis spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “The environmental sustainability agenda is an essential component of the Novartis strategy and operating model. Our climate strategy is aligned with the Paris Agreement which aims to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C and covers own operations (scope 1 and 2) as well as our supply chain (scope 3).”

The report comes as major companies have increasingly committed to zero-emissions targets, and public officials such as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry have presented private sector cooperation as vital to averting catastrophic warming. As recently as late January, Kerry said the number of private companies that announced net-zero pledges was one of the most encouraging developments at 2021’s COP26 climate summit.

Updated at 4:12 p.m.

Tags Amazon Carbon footprint Climate change greenhouse gases John Kerry net-zero emissions Novartis

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