Capital & Main originally published this article.
What in The World Is Net Zero?
The final word in a line going from something to nothing on a scale, zero is a beautiful word.
Therefore it’s becoming more common among the major emitters of greenhouse gases in our country.
By 2050, ExxonMobil says it will be there. Likewise, Shell and Chevron (it s in their links). Around 400 additional signatories, including some of the largest businesses in the world outside the fossil fuel sector, have publicly endorsed the so-called Climate Pledge, sponsored by Jeff Bezos, the king of overnight shipping, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2040. There’s a bandwagon forming. go where exactly?
At the climate talks last year, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed such assertions dissipate like drops from an air river and warned media to be aware of net-zero agreements [that] had varied degrees of rigor and loopholes big enough to fit a diesel vehicle. Net-zero greenwashing must not be tolerated. Many net zero commitments were singled out in a U.N. study as what it refers to as dishonest climate accounting.
Nevertheless, when it comes to their assertions that they are approaching net zero, the press has too frequently given them a free pass. Even the World Economic Forum, the most prestigious gathering of the world’s financial elites, which convenes annually in the snowy ski chalets of Davos, Switzerland, warned against greenwashing by businesses vying for position in a suddenly climate-awakened world and listed net zero at the top of their list of potentially deceptive claims. Several regulatory bodies both domestically and abroad have started to keep a much closer eye on greenwashers in the context of deceptive advertising.
The greenwash and a different prop from the late 1990s Viagra shared the same moment of admission into the Oxford English Dictionary. After 20 or so years, the green has been through numerous wash cycles and has been fine-tuned. Everything about net zero is spelled out in the fine print, and ExxonMobil’s and its sibling oil firms’ declarations have extremely fine print indeed.
Let’s briefly explore carbon accounting. The EPA states that there are three different kinds of emissions. Scope one emissions are from a physical facility, such as the 21 refineries that generate the 5.4 million barrels of ExxonMobil oil and other goods derived from fossil fuels each day, such as plastic. You may calculate the carbon footprint of the oil industry’s refining operations by adding an additional 109 refineries operated by other businesses to the 130 refineries now in operation in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration. The second category of emissions relates to the creation of the fuel required to keep the machinery used to process fossil fuels operating.
But, Scope 3 emissions—those that come from burning the end product, in this case, gasoline and other fossil fuels dispersed around the globe—are where the action is, or isn’t. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Scope 3 is responsible for 85% of all greenhouse gas emissions from businesses.
ExxonMobil and Chevron do not mention Scope 3 emissions in their net-zero assertions. Because of this, companies can promote reduced emissions in their marketing materials by increasing the efficiency of their own energy consumption while opposing laws that would lower Scope 3 emissions, such as increasing miles per gallon or encouraging the use of electric vehicles. They, like many other businesses, just move the goalposts or, more precisely, carry the ball to their own 15-yard line and proclaim it a score while vowing to go net zero.
The oil industry is not the only one engaging in this accounting trickery: In a study of 55 of the largest corporations in the nation, As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group found that only six were cutting their emissions at all three levels, despite many of them claiming to be moving toward net zero. The group offers a table detailing the ratings for the emissions performance of the 55 firms, with Microsoft at the top (A), Disney at the bottom (D-), and Tesla in the middle ( F ).
Nonetheless, there are approaches to achieving net zero that actually represent reductions in emissions. Science-Based Goals, a business organization, works with the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to help businesses create plans that will truly get them to net-zero emissions. As part of it, a determination must be made to cut Scope 3 emissions as well as the other two.
More than 400 international businesses have joined with plans that have been endorsed for their potential to reduce emissions by the independent CDP, however, not all of them are European. These lists offer a useful starting point for evaluating the accuracy of an organization’s emission claims.
The City Climate Sweepstakes
The International Energy Agency, the leading international organization for conducting studies and monitoring trends in the energy sector, also provides a list of initiatives that can really result in net zero by 2050. All of them call for drastically lowering or eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels.
The IEA report’s authors state that the only way to achieve net zero emissions by the year 2050 is to completely change the world’s energy infrastructure. That’s a rather high threshold, but it can be helpful for journalists who are evaluating the accuracy of net-zero assertions.
Are you curious about the future of your city as climate extremes increase? As of right now: According to Moody Analytics, certain cities will be subject to the most economic harm as a result of future climatic extremes. The economic ramifications of the impending double-sided extremes of droughts and deluges, floods, and flames are presented by Moody in a chilly-eyed manner.
Why is Moody’s releasing this study, too? The clients of Moody’s will either be struck with losses or will profit as the rest of us fight to endure the catastrophes. I won’t say which cities are the most at risk, but the list is unexpected.