New York Climate Week 2023
Nowhere left to hide for climate laggards
Image source: Unsplash
The United Nation’s Global Stocktake report came out recently, and it showed that the urgency of action keeps rising. We have only a few years until 2030, and the pace of change is badly insufficient.
Corporations have been insisting that they’ll play a major role in bending the emissions curve, but there has been a severe lack of material change, amongst a large volume of greenwashing and false solutions.
Among the worst offenders is Nestlé, who are a major sponsor of the ‘Climate Week’ event happening right now in New York. While they “believe in the power of food to enhance lives”, they seem to lack any real substance in their climate ambitions. Their business is predicated on several activities that have a major climate impact, such as farming, agriculture and energy intensive packaging, processing and transport.
But their plans are extremely weak – Nestlé claim they’ll reach a 50% emissions reduction goal by 2030, but recent assessments show that’s more likely to be around 16% to 21%.
They also rely on a controversial practice known as ‘insetting’. Put simply, this is when a company claims that either removing or reducing emissions in one part of their businesses neutralises or cancels out emissions in another part. Nestlé claim nature-based carbon removal in one part of their business neutralises ongoing emissions in another part; contained within their own accounting systems and difficult to scrutinise.
Worse still, their net zero pledge only covers 80% of their emissions. And much of their emissions relate to methane, a shorter-lived but extremely damaging greenhouse gas that causes significantly worse climate impacts than carbon dioxide. A recent report by Changing Markets found that Nestlé’s plans to grow its dairy and livestock supply chains create substantial risk of rising emissions, and its roadmap fails to meet the standards set by the UN expert group on net zero targets. A recent report by the New Climate Institute goes deep into Nestle’s wide variety of shortcomings, here.
Another major sponsor for Climate Week is the French utility Engie. While much of their fleet is zero-emissions, they remain a major owner and operator of gas-fired power stations. A recent analysis by Reclaim Finance showed that while there are some positives in their climate plans, they are “less ambitious than several of its European peers, such as ENEL or RWE”.
It is one of the top European developers of new gas-fired power plants in the world, and is the 2nd largest gas-fired power owner in Europe. This makes it one of the highest emitting power utilities in Europe. “ENGIE’s gas expansion strategy does not seem to consider the fact that fossil gas releases high levels of methane throughout its value chain”, the report’s authors write.
It also relies on highly uncertain promises of “renewable gas”, and is developing other associated new fossil fuel infrastructure, which is incompatible with climate goals. To align with the Paris Agreement, Carbon Tracker writes that Engie must provide “A gas unit retirement schedule consistent with a credible climate scenario; and a retirement date assigned to each gas unit (Engie has none of their units with an assigned date)”.
Similarly, New York Climate Week sponsor EDF is not aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. While only 13% of its power generation sold comes from fossil fuels, there is a lack of any real phase-out plan for those fuels. Coal power stations in France and England, and gas-fired power stations across Europe all are planned to be operated well beyond the dates they must shut down to keep warming under two degrees.
At this critical juncture, it is clear that large corporations have no more excuses left. While no one expects perfection, moving from business-as-usual and at least taking the first substantial steps towards using their power, money and influence to reduce climate impacts is required. Governments need to crack down on false claims of ‘carbon neutrality’; in anticipation of that, we are already seeing the number of anti-greenwashing court cases sky-rocketing.
But so many companies keep moving in exactly the wrong direction. They must know by now that there are fewer and fewer places to hide.
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