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Warren Buffet and Other Deadbeats’ Climate Commitments Are Missing the Mark

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 An attendee at a London event last February, where BP CEO Bernard Looney (unseen) declared the company’s intentions to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
An attendee at a London event last February, where BP CEO Bernard Looney (unseen) declared the company’s intentions to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas (Getty Images)

What’s really in a big corporation’s pledges to cut emissions, anyway? For a lot of those promises, not much, a new investor-led report finds. An exhaustive benchmark analysis of the climate pledges of nearly 160 global companies released Monday digs into the specifics of some of these carbon-cutting and/or net-zero promises, finding that no company met all of the nine indicators used to assess progress. What’s more, no company has fully disclosed adequate details of its plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.

The analysis was put together by the Climate Action 100+, an initiative backed by 545 global investors with more than $52 trillion in assets under management. The benchmark analysis used nine indicators—ranging from the existence of a specific net zero target to engagement with climate policy to any detailed decarbonization strategy—to measure a company’s progress on its climate promises.

While the group notes that the benchmark shows a “growing global momentum around companies making ambitious climate commitments,” the analysis finds there’s also a lot of serious work to be done on actually quantifying and reaching those commitments. More than half of the companies surveyed have a target of net zero by 2050, but only half of those promises include what’s known as Scope 3 emissions–indirect emissions from all company activities and productions, like employee travel, investments, and customer use of a company’s products.


Other disappointing results from the benchmark: only a third of the companies surveyed tied executive pay to successfully reducing emissions; only six companies said that they intended to align their future corporate spending with their emissions reductions targets; and a slim margin of companies use the most aggressive 1.5-degrees-Celsius (2.7-degrees-Fahrenheit) scenario in their planning.


On the report site, you can browse through 159 companies that were chosen for the assessment–which, the report claims, account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by corporations. Clicking on each company’s profile will bring you to an exhaustive list of the analysis’s multiple indicators and parameters and how each company fared.

The results are pretty interesting, especially when comparing the glowing announcements and PR field days a lot of these companies have had with their net-zero announcements. Curious about Delta Airlines’s much-touted commitment to spend $1 billion over the next decade to become “carbon neutral?” You might be surprised to see that Delta hasn’t actually publicly set any short-term greenhouse gas reduction goals, or publicized any decarbonization strategy. What about Coca-Cola, which has promised a 24% reduction in “the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand?” That’s cool, but there’s also no long-term net-zero commitment to back that up.


There are some real duds as well: Berkshire Hathaway, the infamous Warren Buffet-owned conglomerate, was in the bottom 10 companies that didn’t meet any of the analysis’s criteria for progress at all. And unsurprisingly, most of the world’s oil majors—including Chevron, which is facing an active FTC complaint alleging it is greenwashing its messaging—are still missing in a lot of areas as they attempt to convince us all that they’re leading the climate revolution with their various promises. Even BP, which made headlines for its net zero by 2050 goal and promised it was “fundamentally changing” its organization–and, admirably, made the shortlist of companies who have vowed to bring future capital expenditure in line with the Paris Accords–is still patchy on delivering on all nine indicators.

Essentially, a lot of these plans are long on time—and promises—but short on any concrete near- and medium-term plans and goals. It’s great that we’re developing methods to hold companies accountable, but it’s clear that a shiny press announcement on a net-zero target or short-term emissions goal can hide a lot of inaction. Investors interested in pressuring companies should get comfortable with the specifics of benchmark analyses like these and get ready to hold corporations accountable.