'Climate Transition Action Plan': Unilever puts net-zero roadmap to shareholder vote

Unilever has outlined plans for delivering its 2039 net-zero target and will put them to a shareholder vote in May, in what is regarded as the first move of its kind by a multinational corporation.

The Plan covers direct and supply chain emissions, as well as climate risk disclosures and advocacy ahead of COP26 

The Plan covers direct and supply chain emissions, as well as climate risk disclosures and advocacy ahead of COP26 

Last June, Unilever unveiled a new set of sustainability commitments, pledging to end its contribution to deforestation, promote regenerative agriculture, transition to biodegradable ingredients and reach net-zero emissions for products by 2039 - all supported by a new €1bn Climate and Nature fund.

The FMCG giant has this week published plans for delivering against this broad and long-term vision in a roadmap called the ‘Climate Transition Action Plan’. The Plan focuses on the need to tackle supply chain emissions which, for Unilever, as for many other large multinationals, a large proportion of its overall carbon footprint.

Included in the plans are measures to help suppliers set approved science-based targets and to adopt the systems, processes and technologies needed to deliver them. For manufacturers and chemicals and ingredients suppliers, the focus will be on renewable electricity, low-carbon heating and cooling and efficient processes. Suppliers in agriculture, meanwhile, will be supported to reduce water and fertiliser consumption, transition to renewably-powered tools and machinery and implement regenerative practices that increase carbon sequestration.

The plan also details measures to decarbonise hard-to-abate parts of Unilever’s operations, including heating and cooling, and for the business to begin reporting climate risk annually in line with the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures’ (TCFD) guidelines.

A non-binding, advisory vote on the Climate Transition Action Plan will be held at Unilever’s next AGM, which is taking place on 5 May.

The Plan will be updated every three years and put to an advisory shareholder vote each time, Unilever confirmed. The firm had already publicly committed to putting all major climate decisions to shareholders.

Explaining the decision in a blog post this week, Unilever boss Alan Jope wrote: “It’s the first time a company of our size has voluntarily committed to putting its climate plans before a shareholder vote. We are doing this to be transparent about our plans, and to strengthen engagement and dialogue with our investors.

“As governments around the world wake up to the full implications of the climate crisis and start to regulate and price emissions, we are confident that early and ambitious climate action will drive superior performance and create value for all our stakeholders.

 “The implications of climate change for both our business and our consumers will be profound. It threatens our whole value chain – from how we grow our raw materials, to whether clean water is available for consumers to use our products.”

Advocacy role  

Jope’s blog additionally discusses Unilever’s vision for using the “wider influence it has on society” to combat the climate and nature crisis in a way that promotes social equality.

“As the lion’s share of our value chain emissions falls outside our direct control, societal change is critical to achieving our targets and the Paris Agreement goals,” Jope wrote.

“We will step up our climate advocacy ahead of COP26, driving transformational change through industry partnerships such as the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition and Transform to Net Zero.”

COP26 is taking place in Glasgow in November this year and is widely regarded as the most important UN climate conference since the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2015. Debate is still ongoing as to which parts of the event will be virtual and which parts will be in-person, in light of the ever-changing Covid-19 situation globally.

Corporates including Unilever are set to play a key role in terms of sponsorship, exhibiting and attendance, but are not permitted to take part in negotiations on international agreements. The UK Government has said it is prioritising work with big businesses with “credible” and science-based climate plans, headlined by net-zero targets with deadlines no later than 2050.

Sarah George



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