Corporate net zero commitments are on the rise. By the middle of this year, one in three businesses in the Forbes 2,000 list had set a net zero target, up from one in five a year earlier (Net Zero Stocktake, 2022). However, there is growing concern about the credibility of these targets and their underlying strategies (Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, 2019; NewClimate Institute et al., 2022). Net zero regulation and policy is growing, particularly related to climate or sustainability-related risk disclosure, however many government measures to improve the integrity of net zero commitments are still nascent (Race to Zero, 2022). Given this governance gap, voluntary guidance is currently playing a critical role in setting the bar and defining net zero for organisations. This comes in the form of guidance initiatives, orchestration campaigns, standards, investor frameworks and independent trackers aimed at galvanising ambition and helping organisations act towards net zero. However, with so many initiatives offering guidance, it can be difficult for organisations to follow themes and consensus on key criteria.
To provide clarity, Oxford Net Zero mapped key net zero criteria across 33 key standards and voluntary initiatives to trace common and emerging good practice across this landscape. We find that while guidance is scattered across a wide set of initiatives, serving different functions for different groups, there is strong consensus on core net zero criteria and significant cross-referencing between initiatives.
- There is a broad consensus across voluntary initiatives on key features of a robust net zero commitment. Outright contradictions between voluntary initiatives are uncommon, and variation is often due to differences in focus (e.g., some cover measurement while others cover target setting).
- Several initiatives emerged from the mapping as “pace-setters”, i.e., initiatives that are going above and beyond the status quo, encouraging action at a faster speed or higher ambition than others. These offer guidance on emergent, if not yet wide-spread, net zero integrity practices, offering a testing ground for ambitious criteria ahead of consideration by policymakers. Net zero pace-setters require, for example, a formal way for organisations to hold their leaders to account for targets by tying targets to executive pay and strict numerical definitions for residual emissions.
- There are also gaps across the voluntary landscape in criteria coverage by initiatives: guidance is scarce as to how a net zero committers should consider and address wider impacts, such as biodiversity or climate justice. Few initiatives, apart from the Science Based Targets initiative, offer specific guidance on alignment of net zero and interim targets with science-based pathways to the Paris Agreement temperature goals.
The lead authors from this report are
- Kaya Axelsson, Policy Engagement Fellow, Oxford Net Zero
- Alexis McGivern, Net Zero Standards Manager, Oxford Net Zero
- Saskia Straub, Research Assistant for Net Zero Business Solutions, Oxford Net Zero
Read the Report here.