News Brief

Make a Net-Zero Climate Commitment that Matters

If it doesn’t set science-based interim emission targets, it’s greenwash, says the United Nations.

Protesters dressed as the ghostbusters hold a sign saying “greenwash busters."

A net-zero commitment runs the risk of being simple greenwash unless it meets certain standards, according to the United Nations. 

Photo: Stay Grounded. License: CC BY 2.0.
You know the drill: someone makes a big net-zero-energy or net-zero-carbon claim, grabbing headlines and igniting a warm glow among potential investors, customers, and other stakeholders. Fewer headlines show up when the claim turns out to be based on shoddy math, questionable scoping, or junky carbon offsets. So usually the warm glow remains.

The United Nations has had enough.

“The planet cannot afford delays, excuses, or more greenwashing,” writes Catherine McKenna in a November 2022 UN report on net-zero-carbon commitments and claims being made by “non-state actors” like corporations and cities. McKenna’s foreword to Integrity Matters: Net-Zero Commitments by Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities, and Regions is titled “It’s Time to Draw a Red Line Around Greenwashing.”

Some of the report’s guidelines may help building professionals support their clients as they strive to achieve net-zero carbon at scale:

  • A credible net-zero pledge includes science-based emission targets for an entity’s entire value chain, including end-use emissions. Interim targets should be set for every five years, typically with a 50% reduction by 2030.
  • Public disclosure of progress is necessary, and no one should claim net-zero “alignment” or achievement without third-party validation of data.
  • Carbon offsets must be “high-integrity” credits and are best purchased to mitigate lingering value chain emissions (or scope 3 emissions) that cannot be addressed in any other way. They are not a legitimate means to buy your way into hitting interim targets.
  • Net-zero plans should support a just transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Investments and lobbying activities should not support fossil fuel development, deforestation, or other activities antithetical to a net-zero-carbon goal. Advocacy work should instead support decarbonization.

Published January 9, 2023

Pearson, C. (2022, December 21). Make a Net-Zero Climate Commitment that Matters. Retrieved from

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