Around nine months ago, the United Nations appointed a group of 17 experts from around the world to look into what net zero should mean for organisations other than central governments. The snappily named United Nations’ High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-state Entities (Expert Group for short) delivered its findings in a report published at COP27 this month.
The report, Integrity Matters: Net Zero Commitments by Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities and Regions, doesn’t pull any punches. Basically, the Expert Group calls out both public and private sector organisations on their vague net zero goals, poor reporting and lack of governance.
“The planet cannot afford delays, excuses, or more greenwashing,” says the Group’s chair Catherine McKenna, who has held ministerial roles in the Canadian government and founded Climate and Nature Solutions and Women Leading on Climate, in her introduction to the report.
Many of the report’s ten recommendations make interesting reading for our sector. Among them are the need to actually reduce carbon, rather than relying on offsetting; having robust plans in place for getting to net zero; and setting up auditable reporting practices. There’s also some difficult reading around fossil fuels for some of the sector’s suppliers: you can’t be net zero if you’re still investing in them, says the report.
Using offsetting to conveniently get rid of expensive-to-tackle carbon emissions is not acceptable says the report. Instead of buying “cheap credits that often lack integrity” to get to net zero, organisations should be working to reduce emissions across their value chain, scopes 1, 2 and 3. (Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from an organisation’s activities, scope 2 are indirect emissions due to energy purchased, scope 3 emissions are due to the value chain or supply chain – up and down).
This is surely the right way to go about things. We should be investing in technology that keeps reducing carbon emissions, rather than opting for offsetting because it is the easy – and cheaper – option. Claims about roads or projects that are ‘net zero’ are often made but rarely substantiated. Information about what proportion of a project’s carbon emissions have been cut, how much has been offset and how is nearly always missing.
The report also sets out several recommendations related to setting meaningful net zero goals and creating robust plans on how to get there. A net zero goal should be more than just a date, says the Expert Group, it should include “stepping stone targets” every five years, with regular reports on progress. Organisations should set out “concrete ways to reach net zero” that align with internationally recognised pathways which limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C.
For smaller companies further down supply chains, detailed plans would be hugely helpful. If we have sight of how things will change, such as regulations or procurement practices, it allows us to plan our investments and R&D programmes in line with what will be required when. It also creates a level playing field.
Although the Expert Group’s report and recommendations are aimed primarily at large corporations, financial institutions, cities and regions, they of course indicate the direction of travel and the requirements will flow down supply chains. The sooner we roll up our sleeves and collectively work on finding new ways to do things that are better for the climate and the planet, the better.
Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. It invests significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve existing ones.
Thermal Road Repairs: Decarbonising the asphalt repair industry.
High output. Zero emission. Zero waste. Permanent solution.