Catherine McKenna has just raised the ‘price of admission’ for making net zero promises | Tech US News

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The United Nations is cracking down on greenwashing and Catherine McKenna is leading the charge.

The former environment minister chairs the UN High Level Group of Experts (HLEG), which released a report on Tuesday outlining what a credible plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions should look like. At the heart of the report are 10 recommendations that collectively call on companies, cities and other non-state actors that commit to net zero to align their business models and investments with scientific pathways to hold global warming to 1.5C.

“If you’re going to commit to net zero, you can’t just say you have a 2050 goal; that’s the easy part,” McKenna said Canadian National Observer in an interview on Tuesday.

Instead, McKenna emphasized that net zero commitments require actual reductions in planet-warming emissions. In addition, she said, any organization that promises net zero cannot also support the expansion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

“The entry fee is net zero; you are either part of the solution or part of the problem,” she said.

Other recommendations in the report say organizations need to set short-term targets for lower emissions because climate science requires global emissions to be cut by about half by 2030 if there is any hope of staying at 1.5C. That means technologies that do not work as advertised – such as carbon capture technology or experimental next-generation nuclear reactors – have no place in a credible 2030 target.

The report also says that companies and cities cannot buy their way to net zero through carbon offsetting; they really need to reduce their own emissions and the emissions they finance. Companies must also create transition plans for their business models, including phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy projects, and align their lobbying with climate solutions instead of delay tactics.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed McKenna to the role earlier this year and explained why on Tuesday at an event on the report during the UN COP27 climate conference.

Existing net zero commitments “have loopholes wide enough for a diesel truck to drive through,” he said. “We have to have zero tolerance for net zero laundering.”

Guterres called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a group of scientists whose reports are considered the gold standard of climate science – “our scientific north”, adding: “Net zero pledges must be consistent with IPCC scenarios that limit warming to 1 .5 C.”

The United Nations is cracking down on greenwashing. Former environment minister Catherine McKenna is leading the charge. #COP27

Environmental Defense Senior Manager for Climate Finance Julie Segal welcomed the HLEG report and warned that “greenwashing” is a term that is sometimes overused. This report sets clear guidelines on what constitutes greenwashing and could restore credibility to net zero commitments.

“The next step is to put that into regulation and policy so that none of Canada’s banks or pensions can move in the wrong direction,” she said. “We need all of our policy makers and regulators from the financial sector, environmental regulators … to come together and say this is what the financial sector needs to do to move towards net zero and nothing else is acceptable.”

Many Canadian businesses would be at risk if these recommendations became policy. Canada’s largest bank, RBC, for example, has pledged net zero and set emission reduction targets for 2030 that do not guarantee overall emissions reductions. Despite setting these targets and signing up to the Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) – an international club whose members have a combined $130 trillion pledge to accelerate the decarbonisation of the economy – RBC continued to invest billions of dollars in new fossil fuel projects in 2022.

The bank is also being investigated by Canada’s Competition Bureau for allegedly greenwashing its products, meaning it could face fines for climate pledges undermined by its investments.

But the new recommendations also reveal a rift between McKenna’s HLEG and GFANZ – two different UN-affiliated bodies – and their understanding of net zero. Last month, GFANZ, chaired by former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, backed away from its commitment to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, which would have required members such as RBC to phase out fossil fuels. Carney acknowledged tension in the alliance over any binding rules that would force its members to meaningfully clean up their portfolios.

“Race to Zero and HLEG put a line in the sand that says we want you to stop funding new coal, oil and gas, and I think that price was too high and that price will split the GFANZ coalition,” Carbon Tracker founder and GFANZ Advisory Board member Mark Campanale said Canadian National Observer.

“What I find very interesting about Catherine McKenna’s speech today is that the UN Secretary-General’s team is now absolved to go back and limit themselves to no new fossil fuels and do it again,” he said. “It allows the Secretary-General and Catherine McKenna and others to be much more ambitious in their statements.”

Financial institutions “simply don’t want to be bound by the … announcement that we will not finance new fossil fuels. It’s a real shame for me because I think that’s a key metric, but they’re there right now,” he added.

Segal said the GFANZ had been “boom and bust” since it was officially launched at COP26 last year. As GFANZ tries to move away from scientific metrics for its members, it is losing credibility, she said.

Campanale agreed that scientific metrics are most important. Too many companies are setting net-zero goals by 2050 while planning to increase their emissions over the next decade, he said.

“Then all the emissions reductions you need … will suddenly be introduced in the 1940s and magically accelerated to net zero by 2050? This group says it’s a bunch of nonsense; it is not credible.

“People are a bit picky about the phrasing of emissions reductions,” he added. “This means an absolute reduction in production. You cannot reduce emissions without reducing production.”

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