February 28, 2024

Most companies sponsoring the UN climate talks in Dubai are not committed to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions in line with globally recognised net zero targets, it has been revealed.

Only one of the more than 20 sponsors of Cop28 has signed up to UN-backed net zero science-based targets, (SBTi), according to an analysis.

The global accountancy firm EY, formerly Ernst and Young, which has been hired as the independent verifier of the climate record of all the sponsors, has also not signed up to the net zero target scheme.

Most of the corporate sponsors, which include the oilfield services company Baker Hughes as well as Bank of America, have made no commitment to reduce emissions to net zero in any time period under the target system.

The targets are recognised as one of the leading voluntary global validations of a company’s commitment to tackling global heating.

The targets are clearly defined science-based pathways for companies and financial institutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and they are reviewed and validated by the SBTi.

Six firms sponsoring the Dubai climate talks, which begin on 30 November, including EY, have made a commitment to set net zero targets, by registering with the scheme. This requires them to submit their plans for validation within 24 months.

But only one corporation, the renewable energy company Iberdrola, is a validated member of the SBTi scheme, with a fully committed target date for cutting its emissions.

The sponsorship committee in the United Arab Emitrates, which holds the Cop presidency this year, said organisations seeking to sponsor the event were required to submit their commitments to net zero and climate action as part of their sponsorship applications.

But its wording leaves wriggle room for sponsors, saying they need to be signed up to “credible net zero transition plans by 2030 and 2050 based on SBTi”, rather than the globally recognised scheme itself.

Lincoln Bauer of Spendwell, which carried out the analysis, said: “Science-based targets are the gold standard validation system for companies. The fact that so few of the sponsors are signed up to their net zero targets, and that EY itself, chosen to verify the climate commitments of the sponsors, is not signed up either, suggests this is just greenwashing.”

The SBTi is recognised as a reputable global validation scheme to encourage big corporations to cut their carbon footprint. This year Amazon was removed from the scheme after suggesting it was not going to meet its promised emissions reductions.

Amazon had pledged in 2019 to eliminate or offset all of its carbon emissions by 2040, signing up to voluntary targets with the SBTi in 2020 to verify its progress. The net zero standard requires companies to set long-term science-based targets to cut all possible emissions before 2050. Most companies must reduce emissions by more than 90%.

EY is heavily involved in the climate talks, providing what the company says is a team of experienced professionals from around the world to “provide insights on the road to Cop28 and beyond … by supporting organisations in planning, integrating and making tangible progress in their sustainability commitments”.

But its own climate record has been put under scrutiny by the Spendwell analysis. It has made an initial commitment to produce a decarbonisation target but not gone further.

Bauer said: “Just like the sponsorship criteria implies, every one of these companies should have a net zero commitment with SBTi as a bare minimum. Most do not. Our report is about leadership as much as it is about anything else. These companies are claiming to be climate leaders through Cop sponsorship, but are they living up to that claim with verifiable follow-through?”

EY said it was making significant progress on its science-based decarbonisation target, which was launched in January 2021 and approved by the SBTi.

EY has reduced absolute emissions globally by more than 43%, while at the same time the organisation has grown, both in terms of revenue and people, by over 40% against a 2019 [financial year] baseline,” the company said.

“As the first phase of our decarbonisation plan concludes, EY remains on track to achieve an ambition of becoming net zero in 2025. We are planning for the next phase through to 2030 and this includes assessing our plans against relevant standards, including SBTi.”

Baker Hughes and Bank of America did not respond to a request to comment.

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