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Global Net Zero Plans aren’t Living up to Expectations

June 20, 2023
A growing number of organizations are committing to net zero plans—but many governments are failing to meet their GHG reduction goals, according to a new report.

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A state in which the greenhouse gases (GhGs) being released into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere, to “go net zero” finds organizations cutting those GhGs to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere (i.e., by oceans and forests).

According to the UN, science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. “Currently, the earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise,” the organization explains. “To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.”

Tackling a Monumental Challenge

Transitioning to a net zero world is one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced, the UN adds, and it calls for “nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume and move about.” A new report finds that despite their best intentions surrounding net zero, most cities, states and organizations are having a difficult time actually making progress in this area.

In its Net Zero Stocktake 2023 report, Net Zero Tracker says that growth in the number of national and subnational net zero targets has slowed, yet momentum among individual companies’ net target-setting continues. In fact, it says the share of publicly-listed companies with net zero targets has more than doubled in a little over two years, from 417 to 929.

Other key findings from the new report include:

  • National government net zero targets underpinned by legislation or policy documents increased substantially in the last two-and-half years, from 7% to 75%.
  • A significant share of subnational and corporate entities still lack any emission reduction target whatsoever, at the global level and within the Group of Seven (G7), which is an intergovernmental political forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S.
  • Collectively, Net Zero Tracker says there are “very limited signs of improvement” in the robustness of subnational and corporate net zero targets and strategies.
  • More entities are clarifying their intention to use carbon dioxide removals (CDR) in their value chain.
  • Despite having net zero pledges, no major producer countries or companies have committed to phasing out fossil fuels.
  • Emerging voluntary net zero standards have strongly converged on principles, but more specificity is required to give clarity to those wanting to set credible strategies.
  • Of the more than 4,000 entities Net Zero Tracker currently watches, at least 1,475 now have a net zero target, up from 769 in December 2020.

In particular, Axios says gaps in company net zero targets mirror problems at the national level. “Relatively few have laid out detailed plans to achieve their goals, and most others are falling short amid continued reliance on fossil fuels,” it adds. And while 67% of fossil fuel companies have set net zero commitments, it says “an absence of oil and gas phase-out plans leaves those targets misaligned with the scientific and policy consensus."

Net Zero Targets are Trendy

The report also found that just 37% of corporate net zero targets fully cover emissions from end-users of company products, and that just 13% lay out the conditions where offsets can be used.

“While net zero targets are trendy, studies examining their likelihood of being achieved leave considerable room for skepticism,” Axios reports. "Omissions, caveats and distortions often mean a company's commitment is far weaker than the headline targets would indicate.”

According to Net Zero Tracker, more specificity is required to make pathways clearer for all entities wishing to set credible and robust net zero targets.Net zero has had to grow up quickly, but is now firmly in an age of implementation,” it concludes. “Above all, we need more entities to sign up to net zero, and need those that have pledged to step up.”

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.