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More carrots please

17 February, 2023

A new analysis this week by the New Climate Institute, which examined 24 multinational companies that are part of the Race to Zero campaign, has left us wondering whether all scrutiny of climate commitments is good scrutiny. The analysis identified weak 2030 commitments, lack of clarity in long-term plans and suggests that only five companies had “high integrity” plans, with the remaining majority falling short.

Of course, these results are disappointing, and highlight several pitfalls in terms of transparency and credibility of company plans towards net zero. But we do have some sympathy with the companies named in the research for a number of reasons. First, there has only been real clarity on what credible voluntary climate leadership since late 2021 with the release of the Science Based Targets Net Zero Standard, and particularly the communication of what that looks like since the UN’s report from November 2022 describing the public communications that should underpin net zero plans (you can read more about this in our Friday 5 story from last year). Catching up with changing stakeholder expectations does not happen overnight.

Second, for many companies, the path to net zero remains somewhat unknown, even if the end destination is clear. For most companies, 2030-35 is a reasonable timeframe for business planning, but beyond this there are many uncertainties. The surrounding structures, technologies and innovations that will enable us to achieve net zero within businesses and across society are not yet clear.

Greenwashing isn’t acceptable, but there’s a risk that, in a world where there are many sticks and few carrots, increasing scrutiny could deter companies from taking the necessary steps forward, or lead to green hushing, where companies decide not to say (or do) anything at all for fear of adverse scrutiny. There is also a lack of scrutiny for companies with no commitments or actions, who are thus allowed to continue with business as usual, while those taking some action, albeit limited, are penalised. We need sticks, but we also need carrots, and we need to be shining more of a light on those doing nothing, while finding ways to support those companies finding their way through a challenging landscape.

By Jennie Mitchell

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