Net zero used as “veil to disguise climate inaction”

Covid-19 has increased the urgency behind business efforts to decarbonise but there remains a gulf between ambition and action, new research has found.

A survey of sustainability leaders by consultancy South Pole found that most organisations' climate mitigation efforts have stayed the same or accelerated during the pandemic reflected in a surge of net zero commitments.

However, South Pole found that very few companies have set science-based targets and noted how NGOs are calling brands out for using net zero “as a veil to disguise climate inaction”. It said this leaves companies open to the accusation of greenwash.

The consultancy polled 120 sustainability leaders from key sectors including industry and manufacturing, consumer goods and services. It found that around two thirds of organisations’ climate mitigation efforts have either remained the same (38%), or accelerated (27%) despite the disruption caused by covid-19.

A significant 83% of organisations have either set a net zero target (50%) or are considering setting one (33%). However, the survey also showed that just 11% of organisations have set a science-based target that is in line with climate science and a 1.5C level of ambition as set out in the Paris Agreement.

South Pole said this could be a sign that companies are not ready to commit fully to a decarbonisation strategy.

The research also found that less than half (48%) of those who had set net zero targets had also set milestones to get there. The consultancy said this indicated a risk that companies have adopted targets “as a means to drive goodwill and manage reputational risk, but are not taking the difficult steps to restructure their business models and decarbonise their supply chains to reach these targets on time”.

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