Then Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna talks about the recent transit announcement during a press conference at Surrey City Hall in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, July 9, 2021. Former environment minister McKenna is calling out weak net-zero commitments and the need for governments to regulate climate pledges in her role as head of a UN climate group. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

By Ian Bickis in Toronto

Vague promises by banks and businesses to reach net zero emissions decades in the future risk undermining the very real action needed now, former environment minister Catherine McKenna said as she released a report outlining the standards and government action needed to make those promises count.

“Too many of these net zero pledges represent little more than empty slogans and hype. Consumers are right to be skeptical,” said McKenna, speaking on Tuesday at the latest climate conference in Egypt in her role as chair of a UN expert group focused on the net zero question.

To bring integrity to these promises, the report recommends that targets cover absolute emission reductions across a company’s value chain, that pledges contain specific targets aimed at ending the use and financing of fossil fuel exploration and production, and for those making the pledges to set reduction targets for every five years as well as detailed plans on how they’re going to get there.

“We set very clear red lines on greenwashing. This is what you cannot do, if you announce publicly, you put up your hand and you say I’m a climate leader,” said McKenna. “You cannot claim to be net zero by continuing to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply.”

Since there are such a variety of approaches to net zero targets, McKenna called on governments to regulate net zero targets to tackle greenwashing and level the playing field, starting with high-impact emitters including large corporations as well as banks and other financial institutions.

The 10 recommendations in the report also include restrictions around the use of carbon offsets, ending lobbying that’s counter to climate pledges, and the need for a “just transition” as part of climate commitments, which includes financial institutions and multinational companies to take on more risk while ramp up clean energy investments in developing countries.

The proposed standards come as voluntary net zero clubs, such as the Mark Carney-led Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, go through teething pains as they look to set clear standards that their multitudes of members can agree to.

The Glasgow group, which now has more than 550 member firms including all of Canada’s big banks, distanced itself in October from a UN group that had issued stronger language around fossil fuel funding.

The split points to the limits of voluntary groups, noted several Canadian environmental groups last week as they also called for regulation on financial sector climate efforts.

On Friday, Stand.earth released a report pointing out that RBC has provided $9.2 billion in funding to the fossil fuel sector since last year’s climate conference and their joining of the Glasgow club, as further evidence of the limits of such pledges.

RBC, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the net zero recommendations, has emphasized the need for an orderly transition away from fossil fuels.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that current net zero commitments have “loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through,” while focusing particular criticism at fossil fuel companies and their “financial enablers.”

“Using bogus net zero pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible,” said Guterres. “This toxic coverup could push our world over the climate cliff.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2022. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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