BERLIN (AP) — Climate commitments by companies aren't always as green as they seem. A new report concludes major brands are exaggerating how ambitious their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are — in effect misleading consumers, investors and governments.
The report published Monday by the Europe-based environmental think tanks NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch examined 24 companies, including KitKat manufacturer Nestle, French retailer Carrefour and automaker Volkswagen. It found that only one company — shipping firm Maersk — had climate plans with "reasonable integrity" while the rest were assessed to be moderate to very low.
"For the majority of companies, we found their climate strategies to be lacking," said Thomas Day, a researcher at the NewClimate Institute who co-authored the report.
Actual emissions cuts resulting from the companies' plans would amount to less than half those needed by 2030 to help meet the Paris climate accord's goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), it found in its second annual assessment.
The researchers also questioned companies' pledges to achieve "net zero'' emissions, arguing that most consumers would understand that to mean largely stopping the release of planet-heating gas into the atmosphere.
"These net zero pledges, they actually amount to a commitment to reduce the emissions of those companies by just 36%," said Day. Companies either claim the rest will be removed from the atmosphere by artificial or natural means — so-called carbon offsets — or simply remove large chunks of their emissions from the tally.
This was the case, for example, for Carrefour, which excludes 80% of its stores from the net zero target for 2040, according to the report. The company was among four corporations ranked as having climate plans with "very low integrity," along with American Airlines, food processing company JBS and Samsung Electronics.
Carrefour said it disagreed with the report, adding that its climate efforts had been validated by independent experts — a position also taken by Swiss-based Nestle, whose targets were labeled as having "low integrity."
"We will continue to pursue a holistic strategy of reducing our emissions and removing carbon from the atmosphere through measures that deliver benefits to the millions of people connected to our company's operations," Nestle said in a statement.
Volkswagen, whose targets were also assessed as having "low integrity," said it was committed to meeting the goal of the Paris accord, noting that it plans to invest €52 billion ($55.5 billion) in electric vehicles by 2026.
"We support the NewClimate Institute's concern to achieve the greatest possible transparency and comparability in the climate goals of large companies," it said.
The report's authors said their findings highlighted the need for greater transparency and stricter regulation of corporate climate efforts, to prevent companies from greenwashing their environmental impact —- particularly when making 'net zero' claims.
"In many ways, carbon-neutral products are similar to cancer-neutral cigarettes," said co-author Gilles Dufrasne of Carbon Market Watch. "There is no robust scientific basis behind those claims, and most consumers are just completely confused about what those claims would mean."