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Emissions: Apple and others ignoring climate pledges

February 13, 2023

Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Microsoft are among the world's largest companies whose emissions reductions are woefully inadequate — despite their net zero commitments.

Google-Hauptquartier in Mountain View, Kalifornien
Image: Christian Offenberg/IMAGO

The net-zero emissions plans of 24 multinational companies are not only largely misleading, but also distract from a failure to cut climate-wrecking emissions in line with the Paris climate goals.  

The latest Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, which is authored by German think tank, the New Climate Institute, paints a picture of private sector obfuscation in regard to meaningful decarbonization.

The report found the climate strategies of 15 of the 24 companies surveyed were of "low" or "very low integrity" due to inadequate or ambiguous pledges

Nearly all of the corporations have committed to becoming net-zero or carbon neutral in the next three decades. Net-zero can only be reached after a 90% minimum emissions cut, say the report's authors.

Yet on average, the companies will only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 36%, which is "wholly insufficient" to limit temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), said the report.

Just five of the 24 companies — H&M Group, Holcim, Stellantis, Maersk, and Thyssenkrupp — commit to decarbonize their emissions by at least around 90% by their respective net-zero target years.

Claiming carbon neutrality while doing business as usual   

Promises of climate neutrality by half of the corporations analyzed – including tech companies Apple, Google and Microsoft, and German postal delivery service Deutsche Post DHL — are highly misleading in that they only refer to 3% of total emissions.  

"Quite shockingly," the largest share of the companies' own emissions are left out, noted Thomas Day, an analyst at the New Climate Institute and report co-author.

He said the terminology of net zero "should really mean deep decarbonization to not mislead investors and consumers." 

Only three corporations — shipping company Maersk, and telecommunications firms Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom — commit to deep decarbonization across all their emissions up and down the value chain.

ercedez-Benz SLS AMG is seen at the North American International Auto Show
Mercedes-Benz' climate pledges were rated as having "low" integrityImage: AP

"This creates a really difficult situation for the handful of companies that are genuinely ambitious and are taking part in the process with more honesty and integrity, because it's impossible for them to distinguish themselves from companies who are greenwashing," said Day.

The inadequacy of the pledges is compounded by the fact that two-thirds of the companies plan to rely on offsetting emissions through carbon credits – rather than cutting emissions at the source. 

The companies, which are all members of the UN initiative, Race to Zero — whose membership has tripled to nearly 9,000 companies since January 2022, noted the report — commonly use forests and other biological carbon reservoirs to offset their emissions.

However, the report noted that such offsets might be unable to neutralize GHG emissions in the long term if destroyed by forest fires, for example.

Furthermore, two to four planets would be required if all companies were to plan CO2 compensation strategies on a similar scale.

2030 targets won't be met 

The inadequacy but also the ambiguity of the longer term net-zero corporate targets is masking the even bigger failure to make immediate emissions cuts in line with 2030 targets, said the authors. 

To achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century, the report estimates that companies need to cut emissions 43% by 2030 from 2019 levels.

"On average, these 24 companies commit only 15% emissions reductions by 2030," noted Thomas Day. "So it's much closer to business as usual than it is to where we need to be going."

Companies are responding to calls from consumers, shareholders and regulators to decarbonize by setting goals and demonstrating their climate leadership.  

"[But] the fragmentation of approaches and the general lack of regulation or oversight, means that it is more difficult than ever to distinguish between real climate leadership and unsubstantiated greenwashing," according to the report.

Moreover, the ambiguity of these net zero targets is "actually distracting from the grave insufficiency of short-term targets," said Day.

Since the publication of the first Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor a year ago, there has been little progress in general, said the authors.

Only one company with 'adequate' pledges

Of the companies surveyed, German steel giant Thyssen Krupp's climate strategy was rated to have "moderate" integrity, but those of Deutsche Post DHL, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz all had "low" integrity.

As in the 2022 edition of the report, Danish multinational Maersk is the only company whose climate strategy had "adequate" integrity, in part through investment in alternative fuels.

A Maersk shipping container
Maersk is the only company whose climate strategy had 'adequate' integrityImage: Claus Bonnerup/Polfoto/AP/picture alliance

One of the report's key findings is that intense scrutiny and transparency is vital for ensuring that pledges and claims are credible. Companies must be held accountable if they are not.

This should be the job of regulators who cannot rely on public and shareholder pressure to keep corporations in line with climate targets, said Thomas Day.

"Regulators, international standard setters and companies need to focus with great determination on the integrity of companies' emissions reduction plans up to 2030," he said. 

"Current corporate plans in no way reflect the urgency for immediate drastic emissions cuts." 

Edited by: Jennifer Collins

Stuart Braun | DW Reporter
Stuart Braun Berlin-based journalist with a focus on climate and culture.