16 November 2022
Experts Issue Guide to Prevent Net-zero Greenwashing by Non-State Actors
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Set up by the UN Secretary-General in March to increase credibility of net-zero pledges, the UN High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities issued its first report.

The report offers recommendations to bring integrity to net-zero commitments by industry, financial institutions, cities, and regions and to support a global, equitable transition to a sustainable future.

A high-level expert group the UN Secretary-General appointed in March 2022 to address a “surplus of confusion and deficit of credibility” over net-zero pledges of non-State entities has issued its first report, urging actors to “draw a red line around greenwashing.”

In its report titled, ‘Integrity Matters: Net Zero Commitments by Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities and Regions,’ the UN High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities outlines five principles to guide the setting and attaining of net-zero targets:

  • Ambition which delivers significant near- and medium-term emissions reductions on a path to global net zero by 2050;
  • Demonstrated integrity by aligning commitments with actions and investments;
  • Radical transparency in sharing relevant, non-competitive, comparable data on plans and progress;
  • Established credibility through plans based in science and third-party accountability; and
  • Demonstrable commitment to both equity and justice in all actions.

Based on these principles, the report provides detailed recommendations on “what non-state actors need to consider through each stage of their progress towards being net zero aligned and what the successful attainment of that status can and must contribute to the global effort to address the climate crisis.”

Too many of the net-zero pledges are … little more than empty slogans and hype.

— Expert Group Chair Catherine McKenna

In his remarks at the launch, UN Secretary‑General António Guterres said the report “provides clarity in four key areas: environmental integrity; credibility; accountability; and the role of Governments.” He stressed that net-zero pledges must: be in line with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios limiting warming to 1.5°C, leading to a 45% decline in global emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050; have interim targets every five years starting in 2025; and cover all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and all scopes of emissions.

To ensure credibility, Guterres said decarbonization plans “should be publicly available, with detailed, concrete actions to meet all targets, with management “accountable for delivering on these pledges.” He underscored that the transition to net zero must be just and “address the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries and sectors affected by the renewable energy transition.”

Further, the Secretary-General called for transparency to achieve accountability, and invited the UNFCCC Executive Secretary to present a plan early next year on how to fill gaps from the lack of universally recognized credible third-party authorities and strengthen mechanisms positioned to conduct this verification and accountability process.

We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.

— UN Secretary‑General António Guterres

Guterres urged governments to provide non-State entities with a level playing field to transition to a just, net-zero future. He called on the Group of 20 (G20) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to “accelerate the decarbonization of their economies and end their addiction and subsidies to fossil fuels,” and on all other governments to “build a net-zero regulatory environment to fit their needs and national circumstances.”

“Right now, the planet cannot afford delays, excuses, or more greenwashing,” said Chair of the High-Level Expert Group, former Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. “It’s not just advertising, bogus net-zero claims drive up the cost that ultimately everyone would pay. Including people not in this room, through huge impact, climate migration and their very lives,” she warned.

McKenna also mentioned an initiative to create a net-zero data public utility, launched by French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Climate Envoy Michael Bloomberg in June 2022.

At the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 27), the Climate Data Steering Committee outlined next steps on its recommended plans for the utility that will bring transparency to efforts to transition to net zero by collecting and aggregating net-zero transition data, drawing on climate commitments by the private sector. The announcement came two days after the 8 November launch of the High-Level Expert Group’s report. [Publication: Integrity Matters: Net Zero Commitments by Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities and Regions] [UN News Story] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story about Launch of High-Level Expert Group]

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