How to Accelerate Corporate “Net Zero” Action

The March to Net Zero

  • If you are a large corporation with the means and the desire to be viewed as a climate leader, you should reach net-zero much sooner. As early as next year.
  • If you don’t have the financial capacity to do so, commit to doing as much as you can now and give an explanation as to why you can’t do more immediately.
  • And for all companies, if you want credit for setting the goal, you need to show your plan. Improve your disclosures so we can better understand your roadmap. What are your current net emissions, how will you reduce them, what are the costs of the net emission reductions you make, and what would be the costs of those you choose not to make?
  1. Net-zero means net zero.

Maximize Supply

Minimize Costs

Other considerations about removals:

  • We acknowledge that not all carbon removal efforts are created equal. We will only condone the highest quality ones. This will require more investment in monitoring and verification. But there’s no reason this can’t be accomplished.
  • Critics say that capacity for nature-based removals is likely limited and that costs for technology-based removals are prohibitive. However, this is a chicken and egg problem. We anticipate that market demand for removals will change that outlook dramatically.
  • Critics appropriately worry about the permanence of nature-based removals. Fires wiping out forests are commonly cited as an example. We believe the entity that used the removal to balance its emissions in the first place should be responsible for balancing any “re-release” of emissions with new carbon dioxide removals. This ensures that at all times the inflows of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are balanced with outflows of carbon dioxide removals from the atmosphere. Because that’s the environmental goal according to the IPCC. Further, such ongoing accountability should improve the performance of removals over time.
  • Critics point to damaging side effects of some nature-based projects such as threats to biodiversity, livelihoods, etc. We agree that such outcomes need to be avoided to the extent possible, but note that the same standard should be applied to emission reduction initiatives and those activities which cause greenhouse gas emissions in the first place. There should be no higher standard for carbon dioxide removal and greenhouse gas emission abatement activities compared to greenhouse gas emitting activities. Such a double standard impedes climate progress.

What would this look like?

  • Aligned with the IPCC. The IPCC is the independent body of experts that we have empaneled to assess the latest climate science. It makes sense to align our practices and expectations with their definitions and guidance on net-zero.
  • Focused on near-term actions. First and foremost, we need to know what companies are doing to improve now and in the near-term. If they can’t do much yet, they need to be clear about the conditions in which they will be able to make changes and their projected timeline for achieving those conditions.
  • Comparable across companies. Right now, companies are giving us apples and oranges (and bananas and kiwis and a whole fruit salad). It’s impossible to compare different companies’ efforts. They use different terms, measurements, and ideas. This framework would give us a basis for comparison.
  • Free of marketing claims. Cut the PR budgets. We don’t want fancy campaigns — they mostly just obfuscate. We want disclosures. Clearly disclosed actions will be a company’s best advertisement.
  • Visible for stakeholders. With companies aligned and disclosing, we would more clearly see who is leading the pack and who lags behind. Stakeholders who care about a company’s climate commitments — shareholders, customers, employees, etc — will be able to decide for themselves whether the company is doing enough quickly enough.
  • Able to translate into best practices. With greater disclosure on the costs of carbon emission abatements and carbon dioxide removals, both for those activities realized and those not realized, we’d have a much clearer view on how best to move forward, and companies could learn from one another, accelerating best practices.
  • Encouraging innovation. When carbon removal efforts are universally lauded, there will be increased demand, which in turn should spur innovation and more supply in addition to more effective monitoring and verification.
  • Make removals a tradable commodity. Yes, this will help bankers and commodity traders. But it will also help with carrying out the lowest cost net emission reduction activities, and this is particularly important for disproportionately impacted lower-income households.

Digging into an example

  • Accelerate their net-zero deadline, maybe even to the end of 2021. They are profitable enough to be able to do so. So they should put their money where their mouth is or explain why they are not able to do so.
  • Disclose much more about their emissions. What are they? How much does it cost to reduce them further? How much does it cost to balance them with removals? How much are they able to balance with removals at a time? What’s blocking them not to balance all of them? Are they taking on the responsibility to balance the potential future re-release of these removals with further removals?
  • Set the rules in stone. Right now, Microsoft’s climate pledge is voluntary. A change in board or management could mean the end of its commitments. Instead, Microsoft should treat its climate pledge the way it would regulatory compliance.

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Former CEO of The Nature Conservancy CEO. “Nature’s Fortune” author. Family man, yogi, ice climber, vegan.

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Mark Tercek

Mark Tercek

Former CEO of The Nature Conservancy CEO. “Nature’s Fortune” author. Family man, yogi, ice climber, vegan.

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