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Disconnect between net-zero emissions targets and action: South Pole


'Staggering' momentum behind net-zero targets

Climate pledges also need clear actions, timetables

Pandemic triggers re-think on strategic threats

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London — Companies and governments pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero need to bridge a gap between their long-term targets and concrete actions, sustainability consulting company South Pole said Nov. 24.

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The year 2020 has seen a wave of national and corporate commitments to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, but a significant gap exists between targets and actions needed to achieve them, raising concerns about greenwashing, the group warned.

"They talk the talk. But do they walk the walk? A survey of sustainability leaders finds climate ambition is growing and the C-suite is trusted to lead the journey to net-zero – but there is a major disconnect between ambition and action," South Pole said in a statement.

The poll of 120 sustainability leaders from key sectors including industry and manufacturing, consumer goods and services, finance, property and construction, found that despite the profound challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the momentum to decarbonize is continuing apace in most organizations.

"A staggering 83% of executives polled work for organizations that have either set a net-zero target (50%) or are considering setting one (33%). This momentum behind net-zero highlights a general trend of increased sustainability action among private sector companies," South Pole said.

However, the survey also showed that only 11% of organizations have set a science-based target, it said.

"Companies that set a net-zero target need to develop a decarbonization strategy in line with climate science and a 1.5 degrees C level of ambition in order to meet their net-zero commitment," it said.

"A science-based target is a requirement and the basis for a long-term decarbonization journey. The fact that only 11% of companies polled have set a SBT could be a sign that companies are not ready to commit fully to a decarbonization strategy," the company said.

There is a risk that CEOs and boards have adopted net-zero targets as a means to drive goodwill and manage reputational risk, but are not taking the difficult steps to restructure their business models and decarbonize their supply chains to reach the targets on time, it warned.

COVID-19 a wake-up call to tackle external threats

The group also said the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a warning to companies over large-scale business threats, forcing a re-think about strategies to deal with climate impacts.

It said 65% of organizations' climate mitigation efforts have either remained the same through the virus outbreak or accelerated.

About a third of respondents said their climate mitigation efforts have slowed or temporarily paused until economic conditions look brighter.

"Our survey indicates that the net-zero ambitions of most organizations are not only showing some immunity to the COVID-19 crisis, but many are actually using the major reset to accelerate their responses to the even greater threat of climate breakdown," said South Pole CEO Renat Heuberger.

"Many organizations have realized that they are vulnerable to external shocks, and are thinking strategically about what could be the next one -- the climate emergency," he said in a statement.

"This new 'net-zero-ready' mindset promises to help organizations break out of old cycles of incrementalism to achieve impact, by investing in innovation, enhancing supply chain resilience, and collaborating with industry players to find solutions," Heuberger said.