A new report accuses over half of Australia’s highest polluting companies of setting net zero emissions targets without firm plans to end their use of coal or commit to 100% renewable electricity.
Greenpeace, the environmental NGO, said the companies were “greenwashing” their net zero or carbon neutral goals in its Hero to zero: Uncovering the truth of corporate Australia’s climate action claims report.
While just over half of Australia’s 80 top emitting ASX200 companies have now set net zero or carbon neutral goals, only 16 plan to cut operational emissions by switching to clean energy rather than fossil fuels, the analysis from Greenpeace Australia Pacific showed.
The report pointed specifically to companies including Qantas, Woodside Petroleum and AGL Energy that it said are making net zero claims without reducing emissions from their use and production of fossil fuels.
Carbon offset schemes are not only ineffective, Greenpeace said, but misleading.
It called for Australian businesses to follow the lead of companies like Woolworths, Coles and Telstra which have committed to switching to 100% renewable electricity by 2025.
Dr Nikola Čašule, head of research and investigations at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the analysis showed how corporate “greenwashing” was being used to obfuscate the impacts of major company’s emissions goals.
“While protecting and restoring our rapidly declining forests is hugely important in its own right, land-based carbon offsets such as tree planting schemes cannot repair the climate damage caused by burning coal, oil and gas,” Čašule said.
Australian corporates under pressure
Australian companies are under pressure on climate change as institutional investors such as Climate Action 100+, backed by domestic superannuation funds, use their power to hold companies to account.
According to research from the Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC), which counts some of Australia and New Zealand’s biggest institutional investors and superannuation funds as members, major investors are increasingly flocking to 2050 net zero emissions targets.
Its annual survey findings released in late August showed that more than 40% of surveyed investors are targeting net zero emissions by 2050 across their entire portfolio — up from 27% in 2020.
While many Australian companies have committed to net zero goals, delivering on that intent remains uncertain.
While many countries and corporations have signed up to reach net zero goals by 2050 or sooner, many Australian company’s commitments are not inclusive of all areas of its business.
BHP, for instance, has set a net zero emissions target by 2050 for both its direct suppliers and shippers of its products, but said on Tuesday it will not extend the goal to its steelmaking customers, saying there were still major hurdles when it came to the steelmaking industry including technology gaps.
The role of coal in the long-term energy mix has been called into question by the International Energy Agency, which said in May that no new coal mines, oilfields or gas fields should be opened up if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
A United Nations timetable has also said Australia has less than 10 years to shut its coal mines and find new jobs for workers as pressure escalates for the nation to cut greenhouse gas emissions.