Corporations are ramping up their greenwashing to head-off any efforts to reign in their GHG emissions. After five years of having done nothing to move towards the already compromised targets established by the 2015 Paris Agreement, dozens of big polluters like Nestlé and Shell are now making “net zero” pledges, mainly to satisfy the public relations needs of the financial players that fund them. The shift in corporate greenwashing will do nothing to reduce emissions but risks generating a massive land grab for forests and farmlands, particularly in the global South. Food and agribusiness corporations are leading actors in this deadly scam. Climate action will go on being undermined by corporate greenwashing until people take back control over the funds, territories, and governments that are captured by corporations.
Corporations are, without a doubt, the number one obstacle to meaningful action on the climate crisis. These almighty actors have spent the past two decades undermining scientific consensus, blocking meaningful legislation, and greenwashing their own responsibility. Even the last-ditch Paris Agreement, with its lame voluntary commitment to keep the world to a still disastrous 1.5 degrees of warming, has done nothing to stop corporate greed from taking the planet to the brink.
Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and its promise of market-based solutions, few corporations have even done the bare minimum to disclose their emissions, let alone to take actions to reduce them. Out of the world’s top 500 corporations, just 67 have made commitments to reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The vast majority of corporations are still not disclosing their emissions, let alone taking any actions to address them. Moreover, while not a single global financial corporation has yet adopted policies to curb the burning of fossil fuels, the money they channel to fossil fuel companies has increased every year since the Paris Agreement was adopted, totaling over $2.7 trillion in the past five years.
Food and agriculture companies are among the worst performers. Attention to their role in the climate crisis is increasing, with the latest IPCC report estimating that the food system accounts for up to 37% of total global GHG emissions. Yet, of the top 35 global meat and dairy companies, the worst climate offenders within the sector, just one of them has committed to reducing its absolute emissions in line with the Paris targets. This has not prevented these companies from receiving billions of dollars from global financial corporations, including those that claim to be committed to responsible investing.
It was easier for corporations to get away with doing nothing when the climate crisis was not so physically evident as it is today. They also now have to grapple with a growing, youthful climate movement that carries influence over governments and that directly targets corporations, including the bloated financial companies that continue to funnel people’s retirement savings into the worst polluters. And then there’s the covid-19 pandemic, which has blown a hole in the neoliberal consensus and made plain the importance of government intervention to deal with global emergencies. Not to mention that a climate denier no longer occupies the White House. For corporations, there is a real risk that governments may finally get serious and start imposing policies and regulations that cut into their profits and power.
Corporations are of course fighting back, big time, with a unified greenwashing campaign to rebrand themselves as the purveyors of solutions. Not a day goes by without the announcement of a corporate initiative or pledge to achieve the Paris target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050. But a look into the net-zero roadmaps, blueprints, and scenarios that more and more corporations are making public shows that their version of net-zero is really just a commitment to maintain the growth of their highly polluting operations and to (possibly) offset these emissions by paying others to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. The plans are scientifically unsound and place most of the burden and risk on communities in the global South, whose lands will be targetted for these offset programs.
Corporations from across all sectors, including the powerful financial industry, are aggressively promoting this net-zero scam as a way to avoid regulations on their operations. For instance, 545 financial companies, with a combined $52 trillion in assets under management, recently launched the ‘Climate Action 100+’ initiative to “ensure the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters” move towards net zero emissions by 2050. At the same time, many of these corporations are lobbying hard against government intervention in their financing of polluting companies, insisting that somehow they are best placed to decide how investment in climate solutions should be allocated. The engagement from the financial sector, even though it is mere greenwashing, puts added pressure on corporations to disclose their emissions and commit to net-zero, so as to satisfy the hands that feed them. This is the main reason why we are seeing a flurry of corporate pledges for net-zero, including from the food and agribusiness sector. This shift in corporate greenwashing, so deeply based on offsets, is shaping up to be even worse than the days of climate denial.