Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr has been appointed to a UN panel tasked with ensuring corporate and municipal climate claims are credible and can be achieved, Marc Daalder reports

Net zero emissions pledges are all the rage, not just for governments but for private companies too. But how can consumers tell bogus claims from genuine commitments?

That’s one of the issues a new UN expert panel has been tasked with handling. Nicknamed a “greenwash watchdog” by climate journalists, the new High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (HLEG) is expected to clarify what makes a given net zero pledge credible and how non-state actors making them can be held to account.

New Zealand’s Rod Carr, currently the chair of the Climate Change Commission and a former Reserve Bank deputy governor, is one of 16 international experts appointed to the group by UN Secretary General António Guterres. Carr will continue his work on the commission and participate in HLEG work in his personal capacity.

The panel will be chaired by former Canadian climate and environment minister Catherine McKenna and includes experts from a range of other countries, including the longest-serving governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan.

“That’s obviously a kind of interesting connection,” Carr told Newsroom. “People have asked, what is it about you bankers that makes you qualified to talk about this stuff? The flow of capital and the claims by financial institutions do feature among some of the tools that are being deployed to shape investment in the decade to come.”

Exactly how rigorous or comparable these claims are has yet to be seen.

“The challenge is always to answer the question, is my net zero the same as your net zero? Are all claims equal, and even if they are equal, how do you hold the claimants accountable for actually making progress against their claims?” he said.

“It’s trying to do for non-state actors what the Nationally Determined Contributions [under the Paris Agreement] are trying to do for state actors.”

While the group hasn’t yet met, Carr said the public terms of reference give a hint of what sort of work it will undertake. However, he didn’t envisage it involving naming and shaming of entities engaging in greenwashing. Instead, the panel would provide consumers with the tools to make informed decisions, civil society the levers to hold claimants to account and governments clear frameworks to regulate voluntary net zero claims.

“It’s not for the UN to establish that your claim is credible and mine is not. But it may well be helpful to provide criteria for the claims to be assessed against,” he said.

“My understanding is, there is no desire for the UN to act as the enforcer, but rather to create the tools and architecture for sovereign states and consumers and investors to assess claims.”

Guterres said non-state actors would have a critical role to play in fighting climate change.

“Governments have the lion’s share of responsibility to achieve net-zero emissions by midcentury. Especially the G20. But we also urgently need every business, investor, city, state and region to walk the talk on their net-zero promises,” he said in a statement.

“To avert a climate catastrophe, we need bold pledges matched by concrete action. Tougher net-zero standards and strengthened accountability around the implementation of these commitments can deliver real and immediate emissions cuts.”

The panel’s scope goes beyond private companies alone. It will also tackle claims by cities and local governments around net zero emissions. Globally, 1049 cities, 67 regions, 5235 businesses, 441 major investors and 1039 universities have signed the Race to Zero pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said he was “delighted” by Carr’s appointment.

“Rod’s always very intelligent, very committed and very thorough. I think it’s great that his personal qualities and the work that he’s done at the commission have been reflected internationally. It’s good to see New Zealand being represented on the world stage that way.”

Carr said he was looking forward to starting the work.

“I come from a view that well-informed producers, consumers and investors are empowered to make better choices – and that has got to be a good thing,” he said.

“And yet, this is an area where the definitions are emerging. There is the opportunity for deliberate confusion and obfuscation as well as genuine misunderstanding.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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