21% of major companies commit to net zero

Researchers that analysed the net zero commitments of countries, sub-national governments and major companies warn that despite an encouraging upward trend, actors must back up their pledges with reporting mechanisms, published plans and credible interim targets. By Climate Champions | March 23, 2021

Rapid growth in net zero emission targets since the Paris Agreement, and the IPCC 1.5°C report, shows that a significant proportion of political and business leaders now accept the case for reaching net zero by 2050. But to deliver the 1.5°C global warming target, plans must be robust, transparent and enacted at once, argues a new report by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and Oxford Net Zero.

The report reveals that one fifth of 2,000 of the world’s largest public companies, representing sales of nearly $14 trillion, now have net zero commitments. And the majority of those companies (by sales) also have interim targets, a published plan and a reporting mechanism, with just over a quarter meeting a full set of ‘robustness criteria’.

In addition, of the 4,000 “significant entities” surveyed, the report found 61% of countries, 9% of states and regions in the largest emitting countries, and 13% of cities over 500k in population to have committed to net zero.

However, net zero commitments assessed varied hugely in their quality and only 20% met the minimum set of robustness criteria, or ‘starting line’, as set out by the UN Race to Zero Campaign, according to the report.


The report therefore urges states, regions, cities and companies to quickly ramp up their immediate action and provide greater clarity, especially with regards to their intentions on offsetting “to ensure their targets are seen as credible.”

“In order to be truly consistent with stabilising the climate, any offsetting will eventually need to involve permanent CO2 removal, for which very few projects currently exist,” the report goes on to say.

Co-author, Dr Thomas Hale from the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford said: “Although some offsetting may be needed for so-called “residual emissions” in certain sectors, the most important priority is immediate emissions reductions. If every company and country relies on offsets and not enough on actual emission cuts, we simply won’t be able to accommodate these globally.”

Sweden is singled out in the report for its robust transparency around offsetting – “The only nation in our dataset that does this”. Sweden’s net zero framework details maximum use of offsets that can be used to meet its interim goals: 8% by 2030 and 2% by 2040. It also plans to use a maximum of 15% of offsets to achieve its net zero goal by 2045.


Sweden’s net zero framework details a maximum use of offsets

National plans 

Countries with net zero targets, according to the report, represent 61% of global emissions, 68% of global GDP and 52% of the global population.

“With 124 countries now committed to or considering net zero, those without targets such as Australia and Russia are in the minority and look increasingly isolated,” it notes.

Equally, the report urges countries such as Japan and the US to “back their net zero ambitions with a nearer-term 2030 emissions target.”

Co-author Kate Cullen, Net Zero Policy Researcher at the University of Oxford, said: “Setting targets is the first step and these must be used as the starting point for how countries, states and companies develop detailed emissions reductions plans, particularly in the short term.”

Road to COP26

Net zero forms a major theme of this year’s pivotal UN climate summit in Glasgow. In the lead up to COP26, a spotlight will be shone on the number of entities making net zero pledges and their potential to help keep climate change within ‘safe’ limits.

But while net zero is a useful lens through which to view progress on climate change, without robust reporting mechanisms, published plans and credible interim targets they risk losing credibility.