Corporate climate net-zero targets: struggles for definition

Authors: Robert Watt*, University of Manchester
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Climate change, science, corporations
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 18
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Corporate commitments to ‘net-zero’ emissions targets on climate change have proliferated in recent years, but with demonstrably varied interpretations of ‘net-zero’. Targets can feature, for example, different levels of ambition in plans for emissions reductions within a company’s value chain, different forms of involvement with the problematic practices of carbon offsetting, and greater or lesser planned reliance on negative emissions technologies. In response to this variation, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has begun developing a ‘global standard for corporate net-zero target setting’. Notionally science-based, this standard setting exercise also involves definitional struggles over key concepts, plus value judgements regarding key principles. The interpretations of science, concepts, and values that are emerging through the inevitably contested process of developing the net-zero emissions standard will have lasting effects on corporate climate action and the wider landscape of net-zero target setting. This paper critically reviews the conceptual foundations, value judgements, and scientific claims emerging from the SBTi net-zero standard setting process, which is ongoing. The aims are to unearth the contentious features of defining net-zero in this case, to generate an appreciation of the politics of setting the standard, and to open opportunities for geographers and other scholars to influence the development of, and the public reactions to, corporate ‘net-zero’ climate initiatives.

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