Net-zero targets among world’s largest companies double in 2.5 years – research

The number of the world’s largest companies to have set net-zero targets has almost doubled in two and a half years, according to research.

An analysis of data from Net Zero Tracker, a platform that monitors the decarbonisation progress of companies, cities and countries around the world, shows 909 of the Forbes Global 2000 companies have set targets, up by 46% from 417 in December 2020.

For UK-based Forbes 2000 companies, which includes Royal Mail, Lloyds Banking Group, Sainsbury’s and Taylor Wimpey, the number of net-zero targets set has jumped by 60% to 61 firms, up from 37 in December 2020.

It comes as the researchers who run the tracker, which includes the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit and the University of Oxford, release their annual stocktake of the data.

They warn that while the number of targets set have soared in the last few years, credibility gaps that could undermine progress towards net zero remain.

For example, only 4% of the companies’ net zero commitments globally meet the UN Race to Zero campaign’s “starting line criteria”, which includes conditions like covering all greenhouse gases, clear conditions set for the use of offsets and a published plan.

Elsewhere, only 37% of the targets fully cover emissions from the products a company sells and 13% specify quality conditions under which any offsets would be used.

The researchers also warned that while 67% of fossil fuel firms have net zero commitments, an absence of oil and gas phase-out plans leaves those targets misaligned with the scientific and policy consensus.

They added that no fossil fuel companies are making the necessary commitments to fully transition away from fossil fuel extraction or production, despite UN guidelines saying that net zero targets must include “specific targets aimed at ending the use of and/or support for fossil fuel” in order to be credible.

Dr Steve Smith, executive director of Oxford Net Zero and CO2RE, said: “Expecting fossil fuel companies to go net zero might seem like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

“But even in a fossil-free world we will need clean energy for all and companies sequestering residual carbon. People in fossil fuel companies have the skills to build the future.

“By falling prey to the status quo, companies are either delaying the net zero transition, or maybe worse from their perspective, lagging behind on the industries of tomorrow and increasingly today.”

Alexis McGivern, net zero standards manager at Oxford Net Zero, added: “Clear consensus has emerged on what is required for robust net zero targets, which serves as a guiding star for both commitments and implementation.

“No company, city or region can any longer claim not to know what a credible target looks like,” he added.

“Using the good practice and areas of consensus within the accountability ecosystem, policymakers now have the tools to shape regulation to create a level playing field enabling companies to accelerate down the pathways to net zero.”