Big-name businesses call on EU to set 'net-zero' emissions target for 2050

Unilever, Tesco and Heathrow Airport are among a coalition of 16 big-name corporates calling on the European Union (EU) to set a legally binding net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050, which would see the bloc achieve carbon neutrality within the next three decades.

The call to action will be made to the EU Competitiveness Council in Brussels

The call to action will be made to the EU Competitiveness Council in Brussels

Speaking at a meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council in Brussels today (18 February), representatives from members of the Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) will argue that ambitious carbon reduction targets are the best way to secure the EU’s economic competitiveness.

CLG's director Eliot Whittington is expected to tell policymakers representing EU member states at the meeting that a net-zero goal for 2050 would encourage investment in sustainable business while helping finance firms to avoid stranded assets and missed investment opportunities.

He is also set to argue that the transition to a net-zero carbon economy will create opportunities which must be seized through collaboration between corporates and governments.

These arguments, plus a string of recommendations as to how the net-zero policy framework should be set, will be presented to EU policymakers at the meeting. Specifically, the CLG is calling for the EU to consult businesses, investors, NGOs, local authorities and the general public on any targets it sets. This move, it argues, will ensure a “comprehensive and credible approach, which covers the whole of the economy and society”.

The recommendations have received backing from all 16 of the CLG’s member corporates – Acciona, Anglian Water, Coca Cola European Partners, DSM, EDF, GlaxoSmithKline, Heathrow Airport, Iberdrola, Interface, Signify, Sky, StoraEnso, Tesco, Thames Water, Unilever and United Technologies.

They additionally include a request for policymakers to conduct regular reviews of their national and EU-wide carbon targets, to ensure they align with wider economic, scientific and technological developments.

“An EU-wide strategy for carbon neutrality can unleash the innovation and investment needed to ensure European companies are best positioned to grow and prosper in a future economy that is good for the planet, people and business,” Whittington said.

“Going net-zero carbon is the smart, obvious choice for the companies of today and of the future,” Signify Europe’s president Maria Letizia Mariani added.

“Existing, cost-effective energy efficiency technologies - such as smart LED lighting - in combination with supportive policy and emerging business models have the power to keep us well below 2C.”

New science, new targets

The call to action comes off the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming, which draws on more than 4,000 pieces of scientific research and was published last October.

The report warns that the world will not meet the aims of the Paris Agreement without “rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society”, with the global temperature increase set to hit 1.5C by 2030, and 3-4C by the end of the century.

Specifically, it claims that limiting warming to 1.5C would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2C target. 

In response to the report, the European Commission has developed a policy framework which targets ‘climate-neutrality’ for the EU. Called ‘A Clean Planet for all’, the vision outlines a range of potential scenarios for decarbonising the European economy, including a pathway for achieving net-zero by 2050.

Similarly, the UK Government is currently seeking advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on how best to bolster its carbon reduction targets and create a net-zero economy. The CCC’s advice is due to be published in May, with Ministers claiming that existing carbon budgets may need to be altered to meet the body’s recommendations.  

These moves have already received support from the CLG, which said in a statement that it will “support them through its own activities”, providing real-life examples of the business advantages which can be wrought by adopting a bold carbon and climate strategy.

Several of the Group’s corporate members are already making such moves. Modular flooring manufacturer Interface, for example, is aiming to have “no negative environmental impact” by 2020, and to sequester more carbon than it emits by 2040. Elsewhere, Tesco is one of just four companies – along with BT, Carlsberg and Pukka Herbs – to have set a science-based emissions targets in line with a 1.5C trajectory.

Sarah George



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