Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to researchers, companies are wrong if they think they can escape censure with a little greenwashing, because weak pledges are an opportunity to attack corporate credibility.

Net zero: despite the greenwash, it’s vital for tackling climate change

May 11, 2021 1.14am AEST
Richard Black Honorary Research Fellow, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London
Steve Smith Executive Director, Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
Thomas Hale Associate Professor in Public Policy, University of Oxford

It might seem odd to find supporters of climate action debating the merits of a concept that science shows to be essential for halting climate change, and which is accordingly embedded at the heart of the defining global agreement.

In some cases, concerns about the implementation of net zero targets turn into criticism of the concept itself. Recently three climate change academics including former IPCC chair Bob Watson described net zero as a “fantasy” and a “trap”, while Greta Thunberg said that “these distant targets” are about “making it seem like we’re acting without having to change”.

The rapidly growing suite of net zero pledges comes with a coherent theory of change. Firstly, if an entity is serious, it will follow its pledge by putting robust measures in place, beginning with immediate actions to cut emissions: not doing so will quickly open up the entity in question to accusations that it is not serious. 

Secondly, pledging a target means that the entity can be held to account by voters, shareholders or customers. Thirdly, to demonstrate credibility it may have to apply for accreditation from an impartial mechanism such as the science-based targets initiative, which can validate whether its plan is realistic. 

Fourthly, such accreditation mechanisms evolve over time to follow the science. For example, the UN-backed Race to Zero recently published upgraded criteria(in which we were involved); further annual strengthenings await.

Each of these four steps makes the commitment more concrete – and if it is not serious, exposes that clearly.

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For once I agree with with the climate activists.

Greenwashing or token green gestures might have worked back in the days when activists were kids who painted flowers on their hippy vans, but nowadays some of those activists run major companies.

But giving in, giving greens everything they want, is also not an option – genuine carbon net zero would be impossibly expensive.

I suspect anyone who attempts carbon appeasement in the current political environment will quickly discover they have walked into a trap. There are no easy solutions.

via Watts Up With That?

May 11, 2021