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Report reveals 'major flaws' in corporate climate pledges

June 13, 2022

Net Zero Tracker says many company promises to slash emissions are flawed and vague. The report also casts doubt on the use of carbon offsets, a key tactic for many companies' climate goals.

Two children walking on the Weser dyke in Bremerhaven. with the chimney of the Kronos Titan chemical factory in Nordenham visible in the background.
Many companies and governments include so-called carbon offsetting as a means to reduce emissions, but the efficacy and oversight of the concept is frequently questionedImage: Eckhard Stengel/imago images

Plans from major corporations to drastically reduce emissions have both "major flaws" and "major credibility gaps," according to Net Zero Tracker's annual report published on Monday.

It found that between corporate and government pledges, more than 90% of the world's economy is now covered by promises by governments to reach net zero, which is a near six-fold increase in three years. 

"We are now at a watershed moment where peer pressure to hastily set net zero pledges, especially in the business sector, could result in either a mass flow of greenwashing or a fundamental shift towards decarbonization," said co-author Takeshi Kuramochi, senior climate policy researcher at NewClimate Institute. 

However, roughly half of the Forbes 2000 largest companies have yet to announce plans to reach net-zero — the point at which greenhouse gas emissions are negated by deep cuts in output as well as methods to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Of the 702 companies with a net-zero target, such as Amazon, Apple, and Volkswagen, two-thirds haven't made it clear how they plan to achieve that goal, according to the report.

Climate-neutral – is that even possible?

'Unacceptably low' targets

Net Zero Tracker, run in part by the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and the University of Oxford, assesses publicly available data for about 200 countries as well as large publicly traded companies.

"We see a lot of issues with credibility, and the quality and robustness of these targets," said report co-author Frederic Hans, a climate policy analyst at NewClimate Institute, a German think tank.

The report also highlights the "unacceptably low" targets among many of the companies to be carbon neutral by 2050. Such long-running plans would do little to halve emissions in the next eight years, something scientists believe is needed to stem climate change.

The practice of carbon offsetting also featured heavily in the study. Buying credits for emissions reduced elsewhere is often a key tactic for corporations who say they are serious about their climate goals, despite the fact that experts have raised serious concerns about its efficacy and its lack of regulation.

Cash for emissions: Does that work?

If companies are to be held to account, governments will need to impose legal standards and regulations to ensure net-zero progress, said co-author John Lang of the ECIU. At the moment, companies are confused about what's needed from them. "They don't know what information has to be disclosed," he said.

At its climate summit in Glasgow last year, the United Nations established an expert group to produce strict net-zero standards for the private sector. The European Union is also in the process of drafting net-zero reporting standards, to be adopted in November, which in its current form bars companies from counting carbon offsets toward net-zero.

"We have to have mandatory, top-down regulations to guide them," Lang said. However, he doubted the issue could be resolved before the next UN climate summit, "COP27," in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, this November. It "probably can't be fixed before COP28" in 2023,  he said.

es/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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