Race to Zero Criteria Consultations

January–April 2021

Race to Zero (R2Z) is the flagship global campaign, led by the High-level Climate Champions, to mobilize cities, businesses, states and regions, investors and other actors to reach zero emissions by 2050.

Every year R2Z consults with its partners and stakeholders to ensure the criteria for entry to the campaign are keeping pace with science and best practice, and to help the entire climate action community converge around robust approaches. The Champions asked the University of Oxford to facilitate the 2021 criteria update process. A total of eight online consultation sessions encompassing 30 presentations from academic institutions, organizations, and coalitions were held between January and March 2021. Participants included experts from the networks and initiatives that form R2Z, but also a larger set of individuals with expertise in non-state and subnational climate action. In total 204 individuals followed the consultations, from this 146 were individual registrations from experts representing organizations across regions and subjects of expertise, and 58 were part of the Race to Zero partners network.

The consultation offered an opportunity to strengthen a common understanding of the state of climate action and the role of the Race to Zero within it, and to suggest and discuss potential changes to the Race to Zero entry criteria. This document has been prepared by the University of Oxford facilitation team. It presents an overview of the key ideas and debates shared in the consultation process, both in the live sessions and asynchronously through written comments and questionnaires. The document presents the facilitators’ interpretation of the discussions, and not necessarily the views of the participants involved or R2Z.

About the Race to Zero and its criteria

The Race to Zero describes itself as ‘the largest global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.’ All members are committed to the same overarching goal: to halve emissions globally by 2030 and achieve zero emissions as soon as possible — but by 2050 at the very latest. The objective is to build momentum and strengthen credibility around the shift to a decarbonized economy ahead of COP26. The campaign aims to send governments a signal that businesses, cities, regions and investors are united in meeting the Paris goals and creating a more inclusive and resilient economy.

R2Z was launched by the Champions in June 2020, following an initial set of consultations also hosted by the University of Oxford. R2Z is an ‘umbrella’ campaign, meaning that entities join R2Z via official Partners, who are in turn vetted against the campaign’s criteria by an independent Expert Peer Review Group (EPRG).

The R2Z criteria are delineated in two categories:

  • ‘Starting line’ criteria lay out common procedural steps for all members.
  • ‘Leadership practices’ define the substantive areas of best practice that members must meet and highlight how leaders can push the frontier of best practice further.

While these criteria apply to all members, they are operationalized by the individual Partner networks and initiatives to match the needs of different groups of actors. The EPRG regularly reviews these Partners to ensure the criteria are applied in a consistent fashion. In addition to ensuring credibility, the R2Z criteria promote learning and ‘upward convergence’ across the community of actors setting net zero targets. The criteria help catalyze actors to come up to the frontier of best practices, to identify common challenges and questions, and to help advance that frontier going forward.

As a result of the most recent cycle of criteria revision consultations and discussions in the EPRG, the Race to Zero produced a revised criteria,  ‘Starting Line and Leadership Practices 2.0’, alongside a Summary of Changes, an Expert Peer Review Group Interpretation Guide, and a Race to Zero Lexicon.

The First Year of the Race to Zero

Total Members,  including

Companies Representing

Trillion USD in Revenue

What Revisions were made to the Criteria?

Starting Line


Pledge at the head-of-organization level to reach (net) zero GHGs as soon as possible, and by midcentury at the latest, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5C. Set an interim target to achieve in the next decade, which reflects maximum effort toward or beyond a fair share of the 50% global reduction in CO2 by 2030 identified in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C.

Original text: Pledge at the head-of-organization level to reach (net)-zero in the 2040s or sooner, or by midcentury at the latest, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5C.

There was unanimous support to keep the reference to 1.5C. However, there were a number of suggestions to better reflect the urgency of action and importance of halving emissions by 2030. Participants emphasised the need to work on the definition of (net) zero, for example, to separate decarbonization targets from residual emissions and compensations, or to distinguish between climate neutrality, net zero, and absolute zero. The Lexicon seeks to address these issues.

There was a recognition that net zero refers to both the world and for footprints of individual entities. There are differences in both types of actors whose emissions are defined by geography, and from businesses whose emissions are defined by scopes. Participants shared the view that the ultimate goal is to reduce global GHG emissions to (net) zero. Individual targets are a means to that goal, but not necessarily the goal in themselves. Participants also recognized there are other things actors can do to contribute to the overall goal of a net zero world.

Finally, participants regarded the question of ‘fair share’ to be important, in particular in relation to the 2030 efforts. While there was no unique applicable criteria for fair share, there was a common agreement on the need to refer to it in the criteria and ask initiatives and actors to address this.


Within 12 months of joining, explain what actions will be taken toward achieving both interim and longer-term pledges, especially in the short- to medium-term.

Original text: In advance of COP26, explain what steps will be taken toward achieving net zero, especially in the short- to medium-term. Set an interim target to achieve in the next decade, which reflects a fair share of the 50% global reduction in CO2 by 2030 identified in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C.

Participants converged on the idea that setting an interim target by 2030 was part of the Pledge criteria.

One particular suggestion to strengthen the focus on impact was to substitute the word ‘steps’ for ‘actions,’ to make clear that a proactive, results-oriented approach is preferred. An additional important point of agreement was that the plan should lay out short- and medium-term actions that clearly build toward both the interim and final targets.

There was a variety of opinions about how long will actors have to fulfill this criteria, whether in advance of COP26 or a specific period of time, 6, 12 or more months after pledging and joining Race to Zero. A concrete suggestion stated, “ahead of COP26, explain the roadmap to achieve net zero, especially through your interim (or we can say short- to medium-term) targets (2025-2030).”

Participants in the consultations also converged on the importance of using the Planning criteria for entities to clarify the balance between preventive and compensatory actions.


Take immediate action toward achieving (net) zero, consistent with delivering interim targets specified.

Original text: Take immediate action toward achieving net zero, consistent with delivering interim targets specified.

All participants saw enormous value in making clear that action toward intermediate and long-term goals must start immediately. Participants further agreed that it was important to explain how the immediate steps being taken are consistent with achieving interim targets, both this year and in the immediate years that follow. This link promotes transparency, helping show how actions connect to reductions, removals, or other contributions entities are making, important for accountability.

Participants also recognized that there are immediate steps with significant impact that might not necessarily be well reflected in long-term (net) zero targets. These include nature-based solutions and actions over mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants. These can also be noted as part of how entities are making immediate contributions toward global net zero. In addition, some participants stressed that the proceed criteria should address the equity dimension (see below under Leadership Practice), in at least two dimensions: firstly, by demonstrating maximum effort according to capacity and historical responsibility, and secondly, that actors must avoid actions that exacerbate social and environmental inequities.


Commit to report publicly both progress against interim and long-term targets, as well as the actions being taken, at least annually. To the extent possible, report via platforms that feed into the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal.

Original text: Commit to report progress at least annually, including via, to the extent possible, platforms that feed into the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal (GCAP).

Reporting should document progress against the interim and long-term targets, and clearly outline the actions being taken to reach those targets. It was clear in the opinions that the common goal was for transparent public reporting, available to all the pertinent stakeholders, with recognition that for some this will happen through GCAP. Participants recognised the importance of making action visible by suggesting the publication of case studies and lessons learnt as well as quantitative reporting.

Leadership Practices


Targets must cover all greenhouse gas emissions including: Scope 3 for businesses and investors where they are material to total emissions and where data availability allows them to be measured sufficiently; all territorial emissions for cities and regions.

Leading targets may also include: c
umulative emissions (for all actors); consumption emissions (for cities, states, and regions).

Original text: Cover all emissions, including Scope 3 for businesses and investors where they are material to total emissions and where data availability allows them to be reliably measured, and all territorial emissions for cities and regions.

The inclusion of this Leadership Practice was considered critical to ensure the broadest level of coverage and influence possible. Participants underscored the need for greater data availability and new attribution methodologies in various sectors (e.g. finance) in order to ensure that entities are able to capture all their emissions.

Participants called for explicit mention of greenhouse gases in targets to make sure targets are not limited to CO2 emissions. A second clarification recommendation was to refer to sufficiency rather than reliability, regarding available data for Scope 3 emissions, to ensure that data quality issues are not a barrier to stronger action.

Participants also raised ideas for how scope could be expanded further, pushing the frontier of best practice ahead. Specifically, cumulative emissions and consumption emissions were flagged as areas for further work.

Sinks and credits (formerly ‘offsetting’)

1. In the transition to (net) zero, prioritize reducing emissions, limiting any residual emissions to those that are not feasible to eliminate.

2. Clearly specify what sinks or credits are used to make what, if any, neutralization claims, clarifying how sinks and credits are used both on the path to (net) zero, and after (net) zero is obtained. Any neutralization of residual emissions must transition to permanent removals by the time (net) zero status is achieved.

3. Encourage immediate contributions to the preservation and restoration of natural sinks, not necessarily linked to neutralization claims.

4. Ensure that any credits achieve robust outcomes for additionality, permanence, and accounting, and do not undermine social justice or harm biodiversity.

Original text: Alongside immediate abatement measures, potentially including external opportunities, transition to limiting offsets to neutralize ‘residual’ emissions. Offsets portfolios should transition to permanent removals by the time net zero is achieved. Ensure that all offsets meet robust standards for additionality, permanence, accounting, etc.

There is a general consensus that the ultimate end-state will be absolute zero emissions in the majority of sectors (power, road transport, buildings, most industries), which should not require offsets. However, the pathway between here and there still involves uncertainty and disagreement.

One the one hand, participants reflected major concerns about displacing attention from rapid decarbonization. At the same time many participants were genuinely concerned about the significance of land ecosystems preservations as carbon sinks, noting that these will be essential for creating a net zero world.

Another emergent area of consensus was that immediate investments preserving and restoring climate sinks should be seen as positive contributions and strongly encouraged. For some, investments in climate sinks should be incentivized, including by allowing companies to climate carbon neutrality. But even in these cases, participants proposed text that describes the importance for this to be complementary to, rather than a substitute for, emissions reductions within entities own operations and value chains. These debates underscored the importance of adding further specificity through statements regarding the priority of emissions reduction over compensation, the conditions that make offsets necessary, and the quality of offsets.

Participants also saw value in having entities clarify what kinds of offsets are being used, and what ‘netting’ claims are being made. There were multiple suggestions that could be integrated into the Interpretation guide in particular regarding what counts as residual emissions based on the best existing science. This topic remains an important area for further discussion and work, including around defining science-based pathways for the use and conditions on sinks and credits in the transition to net zero, not just once the end-state has been achieved.

Empowerment and Equity (NEW)

Seek to enable all actors to contribute to the global transition toward (net) zero through engagement, information sharing, access to finance, and capacity building. Develop pledges, plans, and actions in consideration of equity, drawing on, inter alia, the Sustainable Development Goals and Articles 2 and 4 of the Paris Agreement.

The discussion over additional leadership criteria included the importance of enabling roles, biodiversity, research and innovation, data transparency, public policy alignment, and equity, including acting upon historical cumulative emissions.

The two subjects that gathered the most attention were embedding principles of equity in pledges, plans and actions, and the related concept of empowering the actions of others to mobilise action towards (net) zero.

Participants discussed the importance of ensuring a new equity leadership practice would not simply be a box-ticking exercise, but rather a tool to encourage campaign participants to grapple with the topic in a meaningful way. The term equity was understood by the participants to be concerned with concepts of justice and fair share. This understanding is distinct from equality, which is more concerned with equal distribution.

Given the cross-cutting nature of equity, participants saw a need to operationalize it through other criteria and leadership practices. For example, considering equity in pledging could include formulating a target that takes into account an entity’s geography, sector, historic emissions, or other characteristic that influences relative responsibility and capacity. Considering equity in planning may look like including a diverse set of stakeholders in the planning process, addressing structural inequalities that lead to some having a louder voice than others. It may also include charting a path towards a future world that is explicitly more socially and economically just and equal on global and local scales. Proceeding may include integrating just transition best practices at the sectoral, regional, and local levels for action today, as well as in the long-term.

Intergenerational equity and gender equity were highlighted by participants as key aspects of operationalizing equity in net zero pledges. Participants expressed the hope that explicitly flagging these topics would nudge target-setting entities forward to explicitly discuss and address uncertainties around equity in net zero and hasten meaningful and holistic operationalization of equity

It was noted in the discussions that equity is referred to in various UN texts, including the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement in Preamble, Article 2 and Article 4. These texts can offer a useful starting point to understand equity in the net zero context, participants argued.

Finally, participants strongly emphasized the object of empowering all actors to join and sprint ahead in the Race to Zero. To support the goals of the campaign, including furthering equity and justice, participants emphasized the importance of collaboration, information sharing, finance, and capacity building. The networks and initiatives from Race to Zero have a particularly important role to play in expanding the knowledge and capacity of their members to act on net zero in a meaningful and effective way.