Big businesses with net-zero targets not planning to reduce flights for staff, report finds

That is according to a new analysis from the campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E). Published today (10 May), the ‘Smart Travel’ briefing assesses how 230 large businesses which have long-term emissions targets are specifically planning to cut emissions from business travel.

In 2019, business travel accounted for at least 15% of global air travel. While most large businesses have booked fewer flights for staff during the pandemic, T&E is concerned that this approach may not stick at all corporates.

All businesses assessed by T&E are headquartered in the US and Europe. T&E assessed whether businesses have been measuring and reporting on their business-travel-related emissions for more than a year, and whether they had commitments to reduce emissions from this source in the near-term. On the latter, T&E’s definition of a strong commitment would be halving absolute business-travel-related emissions by 50% or more this decade.

Less than one-quarter of the businesses assessed – 57 of the 230 – had been reporting emissions for more than a year and set some sort of specific target to cut emissions by 2030 at the latest. Just 13 of the businesses had set an emissions reduction target of 50% or more, though.  The report reveals that many companies are still relying on intensity-based emissions targets rather than pledging to cut absolute emissions.

The eight firms to have scored highest in T&E’s rankings are Novo Nordisk, Fidelity International, Swiss Re, Legal & General Group, Zurich Insurance Group, Lloyds Banking Group, EY and Crédit Agricole. Lloyds Banking Group has notably pledged to reduce business travel by 50% by 2021, and Fidelity International by the same amount by 2024, against a 2019 baseline.

In total, 50 firms are given T&E’s lowest overall score. This score band is given to firms which either do not disclose travel-related emissions or do provide disclosures, but have no specific commitments to reduce emissions from this source. Companies included in this cohort include Accenture, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Facebook, Volkswagen, BP, Unilever, SSE, Vodafone, Tesco, Barclays, Grosvenor Britain and Ireland and Johnson & Johnson. Many of these firms have long-term net-zero targets and are participating in some of the world’s most visible and highly-regarded corporate climate initiatives like the Race to Zero and CDP’s A-List.

“The pandemic proved that businesses can be as effective and even more efficient by flying less and reducing their emissions at the same time,” said T&E’s UK director Matt Finch.

“Whilst some companies, notably are showing that reducing emissions from business flying is entirely possible, others are dragging their feet. Cutting down on business travel makes financial sense for companies.”

It bears noting that, on the reporting of emissions from corporate travel, T&E does not place the blame solely on the private sector. The report calls for policymakers to support the standardization of emissions disclosure through reporting mandates. Policymakers can also play a role in assessing whether corporate emissions targets are robust and science-based – something that the UK Government is attempting with its Net-Zero Transition Plan Taskforce. T&E is emphasising that work from policymakers and the private sector alike is more vital than ever, in light of the accelerated pace of energy transition commitments spurred by a desire to end Russian fossil fuel exports. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) ten-point plan for the EU to minimise Russian oil imports highlights the importance of flying less.

Missed targets

In related news, climate charity Possible has this week released a report assessing progress made by the aviation sector towards climate targets over the past two decades. Targets covered in the report include those set by individual businesses and those set as part of industry collaborations.

The conclusion of that study was that 49 of the 50 targets had “not been met, been abandoned or simply been forgotten about”. In these cases, those setting the targets either removed them from reports or reported that they had not been met. The report states that poor definitions and monitoring, compounded by inconsistent reporting, made it hard to assess progress against dozens of the assessed targets.

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