Oxford Net Zero report assesses the voluntary standards landscape

May 24, 2024

Oxford Net Zero’s Engagement Team have released a new report today, comprehensively assessing guidance for net zero across 37 different guidance documents, disclosure instruments and assessment frameworks.

The team developed more than sixty criteria across the seven stages of setting and implementing a net zero target:

PREPARE i.e., leadership and governance practices to deliver on net zero targets

QUANTIFY, i.e., quantifying emissions, including guidance on what scopes and emissions should be measured

TARGET i.e., organizational and operational boundaries for targets, time-scales and ambition for net-zero targets and sectoral and geographically-aligned target setting

PLAN i.e., emissions reductions actions outlined in transition plans

COUNTERBALANCE i.e., guidance on carbon credits and offsetting, including conditions on permanence, additionality and quality

IMPACT i.e., equity impacts, lobbying and advocacy guidance

REPORT i.e., disclosure of climate-related information, including reporting frequency, emissions coverage, progress on targets

Our work highlights strengthened convergence amongst net-zero governance resources in comparison to an earlier study completed in 2022.

Since 2022, we have seen major developments amongst governance instruments, with the following now being widespread and standard:

  • Recommending science-based net-zero targets for 2050
  • Setting interim targets on the path to net zero
  • The need to quantify and set targets for Scope 3 emissions
  • Accounting for offsets and credits separately from reductions in organisations’ inventories
  • Recognition of the strategic importance business executives pay in setting firms’ net-zero pledges and targets
  • The need to align business lobbying and advocacy with a Paris-aligned climate future
  • The need for organisations’ product and service portfolios to shift towards ‘climate solutions’ or low-carbon alternatives
  • Consideration of transition plans’ impacts on a ‘just transition’

However, our analysis also shows that recommendations to act or disclose activity around the following vary and could be improved to reduce ambiguity and increase the rigour of any organisations’ targets, transition plans, and reductions claims:

  • Better defining ‘relevant’ emissions sources for Scope 3 targets
  • Clarity on how base years should be selected for targets and emissions reductions calculations
  • Reporting limitations and discrepancies in data on organisations’ progress to net zero and requiring independent auditing, verification and assurance of reporting
  • Recommending interventions including fossil fuel phase out and renewable energy procurement as material ways to decarbonise organisations’ value chains
  • While there is convergence that offsets should only be used to neutralise residual emissions to meet net zero, and not towards interim targets, ‘residual emissions’ are poorly defined (though many resources cap the definition at 5-10%).
  • More detail and is needed on the definitions of additionality and permanence in the use of credits, offsets and sinks
  • Defining the frequency at which transition plans and targets should be updated
  • Recommending that business models be compatible with a net-zero world, including the role of advisory services and engaging customers
  • Setting impact targets for biodiversity and nature, separate from emissions reductions goals
  • Investing in and planning for climate adaptation

The full report can be accessed here: ONZ_Standards_Mapping_Report_2024_2

Our full dataset can be accessed here: Dataset

Our codebook, which shows the criteria that we mapped across the 37 standards, can be found here: 2024 Codebook.

Join our webinar on 19th June 11am BST to learn more about the report and implications for the voluntary governance landscape and corporate net zero ambitions:

Please note that our Standards Mapping Report was updated and re-uploaded to add clarity to the Executive Summary and analysis within Section 5 ‘Counterbalance’ (05.06.2024).

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