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UN Secretary-General has urged zero tolerance for net-zero ‘greenwashing’

9 November, 2022

António Guterres applauds the growing number of governments and organisations pledging to be carbon-free but denounces greenwashing ‘net-zero’ pledges.

Rio ESG
Written by Rio ESG
UN Secretary-General has urged zero tolerance for net-zero ‘greenwashing’

‘Rank deception’ UN chief slams corporate greenwashing at Cop27

The UN Secretary-General has urged zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing’ – where corporations celebrate their ethical and environmental initiatives in advertising and PR to divert attention from more dubious activities.

António Guterres praised the growing number of governments and organisations pledging to be carbon-free but says spurious ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up fossil fuel expansion is “reprehensible”.

He said: “The problem is that the criteria and benchmarks for these net-zero commitments have varying levels of rigor and loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through.

“We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing. It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.”

 He made the comments at the launch of the report of the High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments of Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities and Regions.

At Cop26 in Glasgow last year the Secretary-General announced the appointment the group of 17 independent experts to tackle ‘confusion and deficit of credibility’ over net-zero targets of non-state entities like businesses, financial institutions, and city authorities.

Guterres says ‘shadow markets’ for carbon credits cannot undermine genuine emission reduction efforts, including in the short term and targets must be reached through real emissions cuts.

This comes at a time when loss and damage is on the agenda at COP27.  In September, Denmark became the first UN member to offer direct cash – $13.3m (£11.5m) – for loss and damage, following similar pledges by Scotland and the Belgian region of Wallonia. It’s a tiny amount compared to the estimated $500bn (£433bn) a group of the most vulnerable countries calculate they have already suffered in loss and damage over the last two decades. But it does help pile the pressure on other wealthy nations to follow suit.

An article by Reuters goes further to report that leaders from poor countries criticized wealthy governments and oil companies for driving global warming, using their speeches on Tuesday 9th November at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt to demand that they pay up for damages being inflicting on their economies.

"The oil and gas industry continues to earn almost 3 billion United States dollars daily in profits," said Gaston Browne, Antigua's prime minister, speaking at the conference on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.

"It is about time that these companies are made to pay a global carbon tax on their profits as a source of funding for loss and damage," he said. "While they are profiting, the planet is burning." 

Further reports this year went on to highlight that the five largest oil companies continue to disseminate disinformation to present themselves to the public as environmentally responsible companies, while at the same time lobbying the decision maker for fossil fuels continuously. The Influence Map report reveals that the so-called Big Oil companies (BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies) are conducting a spread of disinformation to present an environmentally responsible public image, while continuously lobbying governments and decision-makers to ensure that countries remain locked on fossil fuels for decades to come. 

 Oil companies aside, firms of all sizes paying advisors for reports on sustainability, ethics, and carbon footprint to avoid backlash and boycotts from eco-conscious consumers. More than half (58%) of CEOs polled for a 2022 Google Cloud survey acknowledged that their company exaggerated its environmental efforts. Such exaggerations have resounding effects as they become an increasing brand risk in themselves. Accountability is key, but for that corporations need robust methodologies, and access to requisite talent and expert insight in order to define and deliver a successful sustainable and ESG strategy roadmap.

With firms of all sizes across the country paying advisors for reports on their sustainability, ethics, and carbon footprint to avoid backlash and boycotts from eco-conscious consumers, the need for rigorous data on climate and sustainability has become more important than ever, warned Dan Botterill, founder and chief executive of Rio.

But these advisors are taking cash from businesses for little lasting change, and even leaving them vulnerable to accusations of greenwashing.

“As the environmental stakes increase and the vocal and natural warnings grow increasingly stark, pressure on the global investment industry to tackle climate change is higher than ever before.

“Firms across the UK, and the world, are, rightly, taking steps to tackle their ethical and environmental commitments. Yet many executives are throwing cash at advisory firms to assess their carbon footprint and social commitments only to get very little – often a useless and expensive report – in return.

“Businesses that fail to act or implement knee-jerk measures are vulnerable to accusations of greenwashing, such as those funds highlighted in Bloomberg’s report.

“Organisations must admit where they lack in expertise to verify their ESG calculations.

“It is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense as consumers increasingly shun companies that refuse to take real steps to be greener and socially responsible.”

With the increasing demand for carbon data, many teams are searching for a simple, intelligent solution for carbon footprinting that reduces manual effort and increases accuracy.

As a central hub for all your sustainability data, Rio is able to automate carbon reporting activities and help organisations improve efficiency on their path toward net zero.

Upload data from sources of your choice and Rio automatically calculates your organisation or portfolio’s carbon footprint using industry-standard guidance and conversion rates.

Rio allows you to compare performance across years or locations, set custom targets for reducing your footprint, and track performance against targets over time.

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