Corporate climate goals are not what they claim to be

BERLIN (AP) — Corporate climate commitments aren’t always as green as they seem. A new report finds that major brands are exaggerating how ambitious their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are – effectively misleading consumers, investors and governments.

The report published Monday by European-based environmental think tanks NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch surveyed 24 companies, including KitKat manufacturer Nestle, French retailer Carrefour and automaker Volkswagen. It found that only one company – shipping company Maersk – had climate plans with “reasonable integrity”, with the rest rated moderate to very low.

“For most companies, we found that their climate strategies were lacking,” said Thomas Day, a researcher at the NewClimate Institute who co-authored the report.

The actual emissions reductions resulting from the companies’ plans would be less than half of what would be needed by 2030 to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius ( 2.7 Fahrenheit), the second annual assessment found.

The researchers also question companies’ commitments to achieving “net zero” emissions, arguing that most consumers would understand that this means largely halting the release of planet-warming gas into the atmosphere.

“These net-zero commitments essentially amount to a commitment to reduce those companies’ emissions by just 36%,” Day said. Companies either claim that the rest will be removed from the atmosphere artificially or naturally – the so-called carbon offsets. – or simply remove large parts of their emissions from the count.

This was the case, for example, of Carrefour, which, according to the report, excludes 80% of its stores from the net zero target for 2040. The company was one of four companies with “very low integrity” climate plans, along with American Airlines, food processor JBS and Samsung Electronics.

Carrefour said it disagreed with the report, adding that its climate efforts had been validated by independent experts – a position also taken by Switzerland-based Nestle, whose goals were labeled “low integrity”.

“We will continue to pursue a holistic strategy to reduce our emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere through actions that benefit the millions of people connected to our company’s operations,” Nestle said in a statement.

Volkswagen, whose targets were also rated as “low integrity”, said it was determined to meet the Paris agreement goal, noting it plans to spend €52 billion ($55.5 billion) by 2026 ) to invest in electric vehicles.

“We support the NewClimate Institute’s concern to achieve the greatest possible transparency and comparability in the climate goals of large companies,” it said.

The report’s authors said their findings showed the need for greater transparency and tighter regulation of companies’ climate efforts, to prevent companies from greenwashing their environmental impact — especially when making “net zero” claims.

“In many ways, carbon-neutral products are similar to cancer-neutral cigarettes,” said co-author Gilles Dufrasne of Carbon Market Watch. “There’s no solid scientific basis behind those claims, and most consumers are just completely confused about what those claims would mean.”


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