Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world has seen an increasing number of net-zero commitments, in particular from the private and financial sectors, as well as from local government and regions. The growth in pledges has been accompanied by a proliferation of criteria and benchmarks to set net-zero commitments with varying levels of robustness.

To develop stronger and clearer standards for net-zero emissions pledges by non-state entities — including businesses, investors, cities and regions — and to speed up their implementation, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres announced the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities on March 31, 2022.

“Governments have the lion’s share of responsibility to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. Especially the G20. But we also urgently need every business, investor, city, state and region to walk the talk on their net-zero promises,” said Guterres.

The launch of the Group comes amid a worsening climate crisis and growing urgency for all commitments to be transparent, credible, backed by robust action plans, and converted into real emissions cuts as rapidly as possible.

“Despite growing pledges of climate action, global emissions are at an all-time high. They continue to rise. The latest science shows that climate disruption is causing havoc in every region — right now. We are in a race against time to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. And we are losing,” said the Secretary-General.

“To avert a climate catastrophe, we need bold pledges matched by concrete action. Tougher net-zero standards and strengthened accountability around the implementation of these commitments can deliver real and immediate emissions cuts.”

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The Expert Group’s recommendations for higher ambition and environmental integrity will address four key areas:

  • Current standards and definitions for setting net-zero targets;
  • Credibility criteria used to assess the objectives, measurement and reporting of net zero pledges;
  • Processes for verification and accounting of progress towards net-zero commitments and reported decarbonization plans; and
  • A roadmap to translate standards and criteria into international and national level regulations.

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), the Secretary-General flagged a clear need for more credible and robust standards and criteria for measuring, analyzing and reporting net-zero emissions pledges by non-state entities.

This launch is a key step towards meeting that need. The Expert Group will be gender-balanced and will consist of respected and independent experts, drawn from a diverse group of countries and regions.

The Group will be chaired by Catherine McKenna, Canada’s former Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  “The recent avalanche of net-zero pledges by businesses, investors, cities and regions will be vital to keep 1.5°C alive and to build towards a safe and healthy planet, but only if all pledges have transparent plans, robust near-term action, and are implemented in full,” said McKenna.

McKenna served as environment minister from 2015 to 2019, and then as minister of infrastructure and communities until last year when she decided to bow out of politics and spend more time on climate action and with her family. She’s been a spokesperson for bold climate commitments while emphasizing the need for detailed plans, supportive investments, and specific targets.

The Expert Group will make recommendations before the end of the year.

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The members are:

Amanda Starbuck (United Kingdon)

Arunabha Ghosh (India)

Bill Hare (Australia)

Camila Escobar (Colombia)

Carlos Lopes (Guinea Bissau)

Catherine McKenna (Canada)

Günther Thallinger (Austria)

Helena Viñes Fiestas (Spain)

Jessica Omukuti (Kenya)

Joaquim Levy  (Brazil)

Malango Mughogho (Malawi/South Africa)

Mary Nichols (United States)

Kahori Miyake (Japan)

Oumar Tatam Ly (Mali)

Rod Carr (New Zealand)

Zhou Xiaochuan (China)

To read the biographies of the Expert Group, click here.

A recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that more than three billion people worldwide are already at risk from global warming. The panel is publishing another report early next week that is expected to confirm that the world is not on track to meet the goal of capping temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, as per the target in the global Paris climate accord of 2015.


Featured image: UN Secretary-General António Guterres with the Chair of his Net-Zero Expert Group, Catherine McKenna, former Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Image credit: United Nations.


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