UN Sets Up Expert Group To Hold Non-State Entities to Their Climate Pledges

  • The UN has appointed an Expert Group to scrutinise the climate pledges of non-state entities such as businesses, investors, cities and regions.
  • The responsibilities of the 16-member Expert Group, including the Delhi-based Arunabha Ghosh, will include setting standards and definitions for net-zero targets.
  • There is a need for such a panel because climate pledges of many companies lack clear plans to achieve them.

Kochi: The United Nations on March 31 announced the setting up of an Expert Group to develop better standards for net-zero emission pledges by non-state entities such as businesses, investors, cities and regions in a bid to hold them to their climate pledges amid concerns that they lack clear plans to achieve these goals.

Currently, discussions on achieving net-zero emissions revolve mostly around pledges made by countries and governments. However, pledges that multinational companies and businesses, as well as smaller administrative units such as regions, states and cities, make toward achieving net-zero emissions are integral too. Amazon, for instance, launched “The Climate Pledge” in 2019, promising to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 through steps such as shifting entirely to renewable energy power sources by 2030. Measuring and reporting its greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis is part of the pledge.

“Governments have the lion’s share of responsibility to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century…But we also urgently need every business, investor, city, state and region to walk the talk on their net-zero promises,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres in a press release.

The responsibilities of the newly-launched “High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities” will help non-state entities accomplish this. The Expert Group will provide recommendations on several aspects such as setting standards and definitions for net-zero targets, and advice on the credibility criteria used to assess the objectives, measurement and reporting of net-zero pledges. It will also set up processes to verify and account for progress towards net-zero commitments and reported decarbonisation plans. A road map to translate standards and criteria into international and national-level regulations is also on the cards.

The 16-member Expert Group will make its recommendations before the year ends. Catherine McKenna, former Canadian minister of environment and climate change, will chair the group.

“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,” she said in a press release.

Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a not-for-profit policy research institution, is the sole South Asian serving on the group.

“I am deeply honoured to have been asked by the UN secretary-general António Guterres to serve on the High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments of Non-State actors, chaired by Catherine McKenna,” Ghosh said. “The climate crisis needs more than promises, and climate action needs more than ‘believe us’. Climate action needs to be built on trust.”

Need for an Expert Group

According to Reuters, a recent report found that net-zero pledges by 25 top global companies (including Amazon and Unilever) lack clear plans to achieve them. The need for an Expert Group to scrutinise pledges and develop systems to make such entities accountable for their commitments assumes even more importance in such a scenario.

Guterres had highlighted the need for “more credible and robust standards and criteria for measuring, analysing and reporting” net-zero emissions pledges by non-state entities at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) in November last year, a UN press release said.

In 2020, the UN launched its “Race to Zero” campaign to bring businesses, cities, regions, investors, and financial and educational institutions on board to commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Currently, 1,049 cities, 67 regions, 5,235 businesses, 441 investors and 1,039 higher education institutions are part of the initiative. This includes more than 50 Indian cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and Kochi.