A new report from UN experts condemns corporate greenwashing as the spotlight turns to Egypt’s human rights record and the ongoing war in Ukraine, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand’s Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Change Commission, is one of the authors of a major new United Nations report on corporate net zero pledges.

The report from the “High-Level Expert Group” was launched by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing,” he said. “Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff.”

Carr told Newsroom he was honoured to work on the report, which lays out what companies, cities and provinces need to do to make genuine net zero claims.

While there was a lot of good intention in this space, only a third of the largest listed companies have net zero commitments and half of those don’t even have a plan to achieve them. Very few companies or local governments had pledges that met all of the requirements produced by the expert panel.

“One of the more compelling things in the advice is that you shouldn’t make a net zero pledge about a product or service if your whole entity is not net zero. The idea that you sent a shipload of carbon neutral LPG is not credible,” he said.

The report also said fossil fuel companies could not make net zero claims while continuing to produce or invest in fossil fuels, pledges need a plan to achieve them with five-year benchmarks aligned with IPCC 1.5C pathways, and lobbying governments against climate action and effective climate policy would invalidate net zero commitments.

Cheap offsets came in for particular focus as well.

“In a way, offsets have become to be seen as a kind of surrogate reparations payment. But the real problem with offsets that the committee concluded is that offsets are being used as a veil of virtue that lead gross emissions to be higher for longer,” he said.

“Offsets are not permanent, often not additional and on a transnational basis unenforceable. As a consequence, the likelihood of achieving the net zero aspiration is diminished by the presence of offsets. Which then leads you back to: to get to net zero, we need to reduce gross emissions.”

Carr worked alongside 16 other experts, including the former governor of the Reserve Bank of China and the former Canadian climate change minister, who chairs the panel.

“As any New Zealander does when you step outside of New Zealand and look at all of these issues around the table with a wide range of actors, you do realise how the developing world is in such a very different position,” he said.

“They do feel that they are the victims without receiving the benefits of the last century’s worth of emissions and that that’s not fair. There’s that real sense of, what does globally fair mean? I don’t think any developing country thinks that all of a sudden it’s going to be fair. The question is, can it be fairer, rather than completely unfair?”

The fairness question continued to make headlines on the second day of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh as well. Alongside New Zealand’s announcement of climate reparations, Austria and Germany also stumped up.

Climate advocates in New Zealand were broadly supportive of the $20 million announcement from James Shaw and Nanaia Mahuta but said the money should have been additional, rather than taken from the existing climate finance pot revealed ahead of COP26 last year.

The United States is also under increasing pressure to come to the table on the loss and damage issue so a global mechanism can be in place by 2024. Instead, the American climate envoy John Kerry said the world’s largest historical emitter was open to discussions but wanted them to take place over the next two years.

Human rights are also creeping onto the agenda. The authoritarian host country, Egypt, has come under fire for its treatment of political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah who is currently on hunger strike.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also addressed the summit, saying the Russian invasion of his country must be defeated for the global community to unite against climate change.

“We must stop those who, with their insane and illegal war, are destroying the world’s ability to work united for a common goal,” he said.

“They are the ones who start wars of aggression when the planet cannot afford a single gunshot, because it needs global joint actions.”

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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