‘Net-zero greenwashing’: Big companies trick their customers with ‘dishonest climate accounting’

What is “net zero” anyway?

“Zero” is an elegant word, the last word in a descending line on a scale from something to nothing.

And so, among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in our country, it is becoming popular. ExxonMobil claims it will be there by 2050. So does Shell and Chevron (it’s in their links). Some 400 other signatories, including some of the world’s biggest companies outside the fossil fuel industry, have publicly agreed to a so-called Climate commitment, sponsored by overnight delivery king Jeff Bezos, to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040. A bandwagon is forming. To where ?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saw these claims fall like droplets from an atmospheric river during climate talks last year and knowledgeable journalists be wary of “net zero commitments [that] have varying degrees of strictness and loopholes wide enough to fit a diesel truck through. We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.” A UN report has called many “net zero” pledges what he calls “dishonest climate accounting”.

But too often the press has given companies a free ride when it comes to claiming to be heading towards “net zero”. Even the world’s largest gathering of financial elites at the World Economic Forum – those who meet each year in the snowy ski chalets of Davos, Switzerland – has warned of greenwashing by companies maneuvering to position themselves in a world suddenly awakened by the climate, and placed “net zero” at the top of their list possibly misleading claims. Several regulatory bodies in this country and abroad have started watching for greenwashers much more closely than ever before in the context of misleading advertising.

The greenwash shared their time of introduction in the Oxford English Dictionary with another accessory from the late 1990s: Viagra. To date, 20 years later, the green has been refined through multiple wash cycles. When it comes to net zero, it’s all in the fine print, and the print in ExxonMobil’s statement and those of its sister oil companies are indeed quite handsome.

Let’s take a quick look at carbon accounting. There are three types of emissions, according to the EPA. scope one are the emissions from a physical facility — say, the 21 refineries that produce ExxonMobil’s 5.4 million barrels a day of oil and other fossil fuel-based products like plastic. Add another 109 refineries run by other companies (there are 130 in total in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration) and you’ll get a picture of the oil industry’s carbon footprint of its refining operations. The second field of application concerns the emissions related to the production of the fuel necessary for the operation of the treatment of fossil fuels.

But litter three emissions are where the action is, or is not: they are those resulting from the use of the final product, in this case gasoline and other fossil fuels distributed in the territory. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that Scope 3 represents 85% of the company’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

In its net zero statements, ExxonMobil makes no reference to Scope 3 emissions; same with Chevron. This is why, in their promotional campaigns, they can on the one hand boast about reducing emissions – mainly by imposing greater efficiency on their own energy consumption – while opposing legislation that would reduce emissions of scope 3, such as increasing the number of kilometers per gallon or promoting electric vehicles. . By promising to go “net zero”, they, like many other companies, simply move the goal posts or, more accurately, carry the ball to their own 15-yard line and call it a touchdown.

Oil companies are not alone in this accounting sleight of hand either: The ownership group as you sow conducted a study of 55 of the nation’s largest companies and found that only six were reducing emissions at all three levels, with many claiming to achieve “net zero”. The group includes a list of “grades” for the 55 companies’ emissions performance: Microsoft at the top (“A”), Disney at the bottom (“D-“) and Tesla at the bottom (“F”).

There are, however, ways to achieve net zero that represent real emissions reductions. A group of companies, Science-Based Targetscollaborates with the London company Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to work with companies to design plans that actually get them to net zero emissions. This includes a commitment to reduce Scope 3 emissions, as well as the other two types. More than 400 global companies – many, but not all of them, are European – have signed policies approved for their emissions reduction potential by the independent CDP. These lists provide a useful baseline for comparing the veracity of a company’s emissions claims.

THE International Energy Agency, the world’s leading research and trend-tracking organization in the global energy industry, also offers a list of actions that could actually lead to “net zero” by 2050. They all involve some version stopping or drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels. The authors of the IEA report state: “Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will require nothing less than a complete transformation of the global energy system. That’s a pretty high bar, but a useful one for any journalist trying to gauge the veracity of net-zero claims.

The city climate competition

Curious how your city will fare as climate extremes accelerate? Fresh off the press: Moody’s Analytics provides a practical picture of the cities that will face the greatest economic damage from future climate extremes. Moody’s takes a cold look at the economic consequences of the two-sided extremes – droughts and deluges, floods and fires – that lie ahead. And why is Moody’s publishing this report? While the rest of us try to weather disasters, Moody’s customers will either be hurt by the losses or reap the benefits. I won’t divulge the most vulnerable cities, but the list is a surprise.

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