Stricter standards are needed to prevent corporations and other private actors cutting corners on their climate commitments and “greenwashing” their actions, United Nation officials said at the COP27 summit this week.

The UN released a report during the meeting to address what they described as widespread greenwashing practices enabled by a lack of common standards and parameters that leave private actors room to exaggerate the scope of their climate actions.

“Too many of these net-zero pledges are little more than empty slogans and hype,” said former Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna, who chaired the group of 17 experts that worked on the report.

The guidelines cover so-called “non-state actors”, which include corporations, banks and investors, cities and regions.

The scope is to provide national lawmakers with a blueprint for measuring low-carbon claims and preventing “the use of net-zero pledges that make greenwashing possible”, McKenna states in the report.

New oil is not net-zero

The guidelines state that operators cannot claim to be net zero while continuing to "build or invest in" new fossil fuel supply, or engaging in deforestation and “other environmentally destructive activities”.

To reduce their carbon footprints, operators must tackle the full value chain of their emissions, including Scope 1, 2 and 3, the UN said.

The report said net-zero targets must account for all greenhouse gas emissions — not just CO2 — and include specific targets for emissions such as methane.

“We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers or any form of greenwashing,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

On the role of carbon offsets, the report states that operators should not be allowed to buy credits “that often lack integrity” instead of cutting their own emissions.

The report said operators should be required to disclose publicly actionable net-zero plans to meet all targets, meaning it would no longer be acceptable to have vaguely defined plans to achieve net zero.

Companies should be required to show short-term and medium-term targets as well as the steps they will take to achieve them, the group said.

The UN said companies may currently be cherry-picking business segments to overstate their emissions-reduction progress. “Using bogus ’net zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. The sham must end,” Guterres said.

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