Climate change is an issue that is currently being addressed in almost every country, city, and region of the world. The IPCC concluded in its 2018 report that the world would have a better chance of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C if zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were achieved by 2050. In addition, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris, governments agreed that stronger and more ambitious climate action is urgently needed if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met.
Moreover, the year 2020 was almost entirely spent in the Covid -19 crisis, which set the global economy on an uncertain path. However, 2021 arrived with great hope and motivation for the coming decade in the fight against climate change. Many strongly believe that post-Covid economic recovery initiatives around the world have the power to make a difference. The argument is that the initiatives made possible by recovery funds have the power not only to rebuild weakened economies but also to make a strong statement to the world that short-term economic recovery is not in contradiction with our long-term goals or with the actions we must take to ensure the future of life on our planet. With this same goal in mind, the global «Goal Zero» campaign, known as “Net Zero,” was launched on January 28, 2021.
Net Zero Campaign: Definition, origin and objectives
Definition of Net Zero
Achieving «Net Zero» means that there are no carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It also means reaching a level where residual human-induced GHG emissions are fully offset by carbon removal actions, such as tree planting or green technology projects. The Net Zero campaign is the international campaign led by the UNFCCC champions to achieve zero GHG emissions in a healthy and fair manner.
To achieve this, human-induced emissions, such as those from fossil fuels, would first need to be reduced to the lowest possible level. In this way, any remaining GHGs would be offset by an equivalent amount of carbon absorption. This is why the mobilization of cities, companies and investors around numerous international networks and initiatives has been launched.
Origin of the Net Zero Initiative
The Net Zero campaign has its origins in key elements of the Paris Agreement and the Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action. Indeed, the Paris Climate Agreement committed to keeping global temperatures below 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels and preferably below 1.5°C. Under the Agreement, each country sets its own emissions reduction targets, called Nationally Determined Contributions, which are reviewed every five years to increase their ambition. And, under the leadership of the high-level Climate Champions, the Marrakech Partnership supports the implementation of the Paris Agreement by enabling, facilitating, and strengthening collaboration between governments and the cities, regions, businesses, and investors who need to take action on addressing climate change.
In doing so, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25, was held in December 2019 in Madrid, more than 500 companies have committed to accelerate their GHG emissions reductions to achieve the 1.5°C trajectory that science predicts could lead to net zero by 2030, 20 years ahead of the previously established 2050 deadline. These companies are part of the larger global community of more than 3,000 BCorp-certified companies that, after rigorous assessments, meet the highest standards of transparency and legal accountability as well as social and environmental performance. They are using their leadership to address the major social and environmental ills we face, such as the climate crisis.
Indeed, the business leaders driving the Net Zero campaign recognize that the crises facing the world threaten the financial health of markets and businesses and that the critical deadline for reducing the worst impacts of climate change and preventing temperatures from rising above the critical point is 2030. On the other hand, these companies strongly believe that audacious climate ambition, founded on B Corp’s principles of sustainability, equality, and accountability, can help create a future that respects, values, and protects our communities and our planet.
It is therefore imperative that all companies demonstrate leadership in reducing and eliminating emissions while striving to ensure a fair transition for workers and communities to a zero GHG economy. It is in this context that the Race to Zero emission was launched, bringing together and collaborating with a range of leading networks and initiatives in the global climate action community.
Net Zero Campaign Goal
This commitment to climate action for a GHG-free future by 2030 aims to inspire and motivate other companies around the world to follow their lead in the fight against climate change. According to the campaign’s initiators, achieving Net Zero GHG emissions by 2050 makes sense and setting clearly defined intermediate targets makes perfect sense if the Paris Agreement goals are to be met. They believe that all companies should make a legal commitment to conduct their business in a way that takes into account the environment and all stakeholders, not just shareholders. To do so, they call on the entire BCorp community to :
- Declare a climate emergency and take climate action;
- Accelerate the reduction of GHG emissions;
- Develop a Net Zero plan;
- Join the BCorp Climate Collective.
In the midst of the Covid-19 health crisis, actions and memberships in the Net Zero campaign have increased significantly. Thus, in the current context, the campaign aims to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors around the world for a healthy, resilient, and carbon-free economic recovery that can prevent future threats, create decent jobs, and enable sustainable and inclusive growth.
For the campaign’s initiators, the focus must be on transforming environmental, economic and social systems, encouraging all stakeholders to be more ambitious in collectively achieving the 1.5°C goals and a resilient and carbon-neutral world. Although it is not yet enough, many initiatives around the world are reporting on this campaign. It is important to report on these efforts in order to encourage those who remain inactive to join the movement.
The Net Zero Campaign for 2030 around the World
Many initiatives have been launched. And, as the campaign’s B Corp corporate leaders announced at the launch of the Net Zero movement, we are now experiencing truly audacious leadership.
All sectors of society and the economy are stepping up their climate ambitions. The call for climate action and the mobilization around it have gained increased support. Many countries, national and international companies and organizations, technology giants, and hundreds of cities and regions around the world are demonstrating progress toward climate goals and strengthening their commitment to accelerate future action to achieve zero-emission goals. To that end, in addition to the 120 countries that are already part of the largest-ever alliance and have committed to achieving Net Zero by 2050, the campaign is mobilizing 454 cities, 23 regions, 1,397 companies, 74 of the world’s largest investors and 569 universities. These actors committed to climate action now cover more than 50% of GDP and nearly 25% of global GHG emissions.
In addition, in December 2020, a group of 30 large asset managers, managing over $9 trillion, committed to fully decarbonize by 2050, or sooner if possible. They will now work with asset-owning clients to set their own targets, establish intermediate targets for their assets, and review those intermediate objectives every five years.
In fact, from a large point of view, climate actions are clearly on the rise. This is justified by the number of registered global actions on the UN Climate Action Portal, where governments, companies, investors and others can submit their commitments. The number of such actions has increased from 18,000 to more than 27,000 as of November 2020. And, according to the Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2020, Net Zero commitments from governments and businesses nearly doubled during 2020. Among these actions we can name a few.
Europe Counts on Full Commitment
In September 2020, on the eve of the European Commission’s meeting of September 16 to discuss proposals for a new 2030 emissions target, CEOs of major European companies, investors and business and investor networks, in an open letter, coordinated by CLG Europe, called on EU leaders and the European Commission to support a GHG emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030.
They notably include companies from the manufacturing, heavy industry, finance, consumer goods, textile, energy production and technology sectors. These are more than 170 European companies, investors and business networks, including Microsoft, IKEA, Deutsche Bank, Unilever, H&M, Google, EDF, Signify and Apple. According to these companies, we need to learn the lessons of the pandemic, namely that it is essential to build resilient and socially just economic systems and that the EU recovery plan must focus on better systems for rebuilding. Therefore, in this letter, they call on the EU to raise its GHG emission targets by developing and implementing an ambitious recovery plan focused on achieving a green and digital transition. Beyond Europe, several other countries and regions have joined the movement.
Numerous other regions of the world join the race
Asia is also entering the 2030 climate action race with China, South Korea and Japan, to reduce emissions to zero by mid-century. This is as well the case for the United Kingdom, Canada and South Africa. Several actions have been taken to achieve this goal.
The United Kingdom announced in late January 2021 that it will launch an international coalition with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, St. Lucia and the United Nations to address the effects of climate change.
This coalition will complement the Race to Resilience campaign, launched on January 25, 2021, which aims to mobilize non-state actors, together creating a positive ambition loop for action on resilience over the next decade. On the other hand, on January 11, 2021, Britain’s Prince Charles urged businesses and countries to sign up to the new Terra Carta – an Earth Charter that aims to raise 7.3 billion British pounds to invest in nature, reports the BBC.
For its part, the United States announced several actions on January 26, 2021, including hosting a high-level Earth Day summit on April 22 and pledging significant national and international investments to mitigate climate change as part of the Covid -19 recovery, Scientific America reports. As part of the same effort, President Joe Biden also directed his administration to prepare the United States to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which aims at gradually removing hydrofluorocarbons.
In Japan, 92 member companies of the Japan Climate Initiative on January 18, 2021, called on the country to increase its renewable energy target to 40-50% of the energy mix by 2030 from the current 22-24%.
Africa is not left behind with the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) climate action initiatives. During the month of January 2021, the AfDB has taken two major initiatives. It committed on January 11, 2021 to mobilize US$6.5 billion to support Africa’s Great Green Wall initiative over the next five years, and on January 26, 2021, it launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program to mobilize US$25 billion to intensify and accelerate adaptation works in the whole Africa.
UN Climate action Increases Efforts to Adress Climate Change
Most recently, on February 1, 2021, the UN Climate Secretariat set and announced the dates for regional climate weeks to be held in 2021 and 2022 with the goal of accelerating climate action to help build regional dynamics and advance the regional implementation of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, these weeks provide a platform for all climate action actors (national and sub-national government representatives, cities, private sectors, financial institutions and civil societies) to discuss together the possibilities for better post-pandemic recovery by identifying opportunities to deploy ambitious measures to reduce GHG emissions and to reinforce resilience to climate change.
Canada’s Status on the Road to Net Zero by 2030
The year 2020 has been a decisive year for climate action with many commitments made around the world. While the clock is ticking for countries to increase their ambitions, some of the world’s largest emitters of GHGs, companies and investors have already set a target of zero GHG emissions by 2030. What about Canada, which is one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement? It missed its 2020 target and is in line to miss its 2025 target, write some media reports. Will Canada miss its target again? The criticism comes from Canada’s main advocates of climate action.
Indeed, the Paris Agreement stipulates that Canada reduce its emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. And in November 2020, the Canadian government unveiled its plan to reach net-zero by 2050. The related legislation, Project Law C-12, which was presented, while appreciated for the action taken, has been the subject of much criticism. Environmentalists and many experts point to several deficiencies, including the lack of accountability for meeting or not meeting the targets. The main conclusions that emerge from reading the criticisms of some jurists and also environmentalists are described in the following paragraphs.
- The draft legislation as written lacks the strength to ensure that Canada meets its climate goals. Moreover, the targets set are long term;
- There are not many short-term targets and accountability measures;
- The proposed legislation does not fully meet the standards set by the UK’s climate accountability legislation, which places clearer requirements on the government to follow expert advice, set carbon budgets and achieve targeted emissions reductions;
- The targets are not very ambitious for 2030, as required by the Paris Agreement and all the initiatives surrounding it, and there are no targets for 2025;
- The draft legislation does not require a regular assessment of the government’s progress by independent experts.
Ultimately, exponential changes are already occurring in many key sectors of the economy, often driven by partners in the Net Zero movement. Some countries, cities, companies and climate champions are emerging as leaders. If we are to achieve Net Zero by 2030, the year 2021, considered the year of the promise of commitments, must be transformed into tangible results that will improve the lives of people around the world, create sustainable jobs and industries, provide affordable access to clean energy, water, food, and sanitation, reduce health risks and costs, and build resilience in populations.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of our current economic model and showed that a coordinated global effort is the only way out of the current climate crises. In many sectors, countries and regions of the world, we have reached a critical mass of companies making significant commitments to reduce their emissions, but the effort is not yet generalized.
We believe that these commitments must be supported by ambitious government policies to enable a real rebuilding. That is why we believe that Canada’s climate goals require the support of the provinces and territories, as their role in achieving these goals is very important. However, the fact that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have long opposed the federal carbon tax shows that the climate ambitions of different provinces vary considerably, as do those of different countries. This raises the question of how this trend in climate action in Canada and elsewhere in the world will continue.
Christelle Mylène Noutchomwa,
Auditrice de GES chez WILL