Trying to evaluate and compare different companies’ climate targets and emissions reduction measures can feel like an overwhelming task. There is a notable absence of broadly accepted standards – especially when it comes to what constitutes ‘net zero’. Firms are therefore free to set their own baselines from which to work, and include or exclude different types of emissions in their counting – particularly when it comes to the indirect scope 3 emissions relating to how products are used.
As is clear from Angeli Mehta’s efforts to clarify what’s going on in the oil and gas sector, and her examination of parts of the other chemistry-using industries earlier in the year, there are almost as many ways to report emissions and set targets as there are companies doing it.
Charitably, one could suggest that companies are working with the best data they have available – some have certainly been taking more notice of their emissions for a lot longer than others. But the cynic in me suspects there is also an element of deliberate obfuscation in play. This might range from a little superficial polishing around the edges to full-on rolling in glitter, with deeply hidden caveats in multiple layers of footnotes.
Thankfully, there are some standards emerging. The Science Based Targets initiative makes impartial assessments of firms’ short-term, long-term and now net zero targets, to ensure they are realistic and aligned to the latest scientific knowledge. The Global Reporting Initiative continues to develop sector-based standards for a variety of high-emissions activities like oil and gas or mining, as well as helping build transparency in reporting more generally.
To be effective, these standards and others like them will need to be broadly integrated into the industrial mindset on emissions reporting and reduction. Definitely easier said than done, although there are signs that companies are becoming more receptive to the idea. On the flip side, once you have standards in place and targets defined, there need to be mechanisms for them to be tracked, audited and enforced – even the most scientifically sound targets are useless if they remain as words and don’t translate into action.
Experience tells us that self-regulation can only take us so far when it comes to difficult (and at times expensive) reform. The temptation to embellish progress or obscure a lack of it must be removed.