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Targets Are Improving, But Must be Strengthened to Deliver Net Zero, Post-COP26 Analysis Shows

  • The share of revenue from publicly-traded corporate net zero targets meeting minimum procedural standards has increased almost four-fold in a year, signalling momentum, but firms must urgently strengthen targets. 
  • The use of offsets is ill-defined across all entities, with 91% of country targets, 79% of city targets, 78% of state and regional targets and 48% of public company targets failing to specify if – and how – offsets will be used in net zero plans[1]
  • 43% of the world’s largest 632 firms, as measured by revenue, plan to use offsetting – but 66% of these plans fail to specify any conditions on the use of offset credits. 
  • Only 32% of corporate net zero targets cover the entirety of Scope 3 emissions – and 25% of targets only partially cover Scope 3.   
  • Most city net zero targets are not binding – 66% of targets exist only as pledges, or ‘in discussion.’ 


Thursday 25th November 2021: New analysis from the Net Zero Tracker shows major corporates have significantly strengthened net zero targets in the last year, but there is an urgent need for all entities to shift commitments from pledges into near-term policies and laws

The snapshot of net zero targets from more than 4,000 entities, including nations, states & regions, cities and corporations, shows leaders must rapidly shift ‘from quantity to quality’ target-setting – to operationalise the Glasgow Climate Pact signed by leaders at COP26.   

Richard Black, Senior Associate, Energy & Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said:  

“90% of GDP is now covered by a net zero target of some kind, but there are huge variations in the robustness and credibility of these targets. The Net Zero Tracker allows all stakeholders to see these variations in all their detail and so better hold their countries, regions, cities and businesses to account, highlighting shortfalls and driving standards up.” 

To date, the total combined global revenue covered by public company net zero targets amounts to just over $19.5tn USD. The analysis shows a trend amongst corporates to set targets lacking the necessary rigour to deliver a timely, effective arrival at net zero but, as commitments are adopted, integrity is slowly improving. 

  • Companies setting net zero targets meeting ‘minimum procedural standards’ have increased in the last year almost two-fold by number (from 110 to 207) and almost four-fold (from $2,148bn to $8,049bn) as measured by revenue[2]
  • Companies meeting both minimum standards and leadership practices has doubled in the last year by number, from 11 to 22, and increased 16-fold (from $82bn to $1,345bn) as measured by revenue. 

Outside of the corporate momentum, the analysis reveals that the use of offsetting is a primary area where all net zero targets must increase integrity. Most countries and public companies have not clearly specified how they will use offsets, signalling a trend towards using offsets improperly, instead of up-front action to cut near-term emissions. The majority of the companies also do not clarify to what extent they plan to rely on carbon dioxide removal.  

Achieving a scientific balance between sources and sinks to realise net zero demands that plans depend primarily on genuine carbon-cutting, rather than offsetting. The NZT reveals the following: 

  • 91% of country targets, 79% of city targets, 78% of regional targets, and 48% of public company targets fail to specify if – and how – offsets will be used in their net zero plans[3]
  • 43% of the revenue of the world’s 632 largest public companies plan to use offsetting – but 66% of those plans fail to specify conditions on the use of offset credits.  
  • Notably, 10% of companies have committed to avoid using any offsetting whatsoever. 
  • Nearly one in five (17%), of states and regions’ net zero plans include the use of offsets, but of that figure, 91% have not specified the conditions of their use of offsets.   

Dr Steve Smith, Executive Director, Oxford Net Zero, said: 

“We are seeing a huge number of net zero plans that keep the door open to buying offset credits. That is worrying, because the market is awash with cheap credits of dubious quality. We can’t offset all the way to real, global net zero. Leaders need to prioritise cutting their own emissions and set out clear rules and limits to their offsetting.” 

Cities have seen the largest recent rise in new net zero targets, with an 87% rise in new targets set over the last 12 months. However, perhaps as a result of this rapid shift, city-wide net zero plans are currently the most superficial – with 66% of targets existing only as pledges, or ‘in discussion.’ 

Net zero also demands that – for businesses – strategies must include emissions generated by the use of their products and services from supply chains, plus the lifecycle after a product or service is sold, including ongoing processing, further transport, use and disposal (so-called Scope 3 emissions). The largest proportion of carbon footprints – up to 95% – comprises Scope 3 emissions, yet the analysis reveals that most major companies have not yet faced up to the challenge of tackling Scope 3.   

  • Only 32% of corporate net zero targets cover the entirety of Scope 3 emissions.   
  • 25% of corporate targets only partially cover Scope 3.   
  • 76% of major public companies have captured direct emissions (Scope 1), plus the in-direct emissions from purchased power (Scope 2) in net zero plans.   

Prof. Angel Hsu, Director of the Data-Driven EnviroLab, said: 

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“Given Scope 3 reporting is hard and it’s currently voluntary, most firms take an ‘à la carte’ approach to carbon reporting and action – choosing the lowest hanging fruit and ignoring potentially the largest emissions sources in their value chain.  

“To realise net-zero, firms must urgently shift to the ‘set menu’ – tracking and tackling Scope 3 emissions, where the broadest opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reductions lie.”  

The Net Zero Tracker is geared to identify targets that include clear robustness criteria – i.e. those that include a published plan, immediate emission-cutting measures and an annual reporting mechanism. The analysis also compares key indicators of net zero governance, revealing the following insights: 

  • 81% of corporates, 67% of states and regions, and 60% of cities include interim targets within their net zero plans. 135 countries (100% of country net zero plans) include interim targets; since all 135 nations have submitted NDCs with interim targets for 2025/30.  
  • 79% of regions’ targets include net zero reporting mechanisms, followed by 75% of public companies, 60% of country targets and 37% of city targets. 
  • 78% of emissions from regions are covered by published net zero plans, followed by 63% of country-level emissions, 62% of emissions from public companies and 48% of emissions from cities[4].   

There is a vital need for leaders to be held accountable for delivering net zero targets across national and subnational governments and corporations. Yet, across the board, hardly any net zero targets articulate that the leadership roles are accountable for delivering net zero plans.    

  • 18% of corporate leaders are accountable for net zero targets set in the near future, while in governments only 5% of city leaders, 2% of national leaders and 2% of regional and state government leaders are accountable for net zero. 

Dr Takeshi Kuramochi, senior climate policy researcher at NewClimate Institute, said: 

“Following COP26, net zero is almost universal. Now, both governments and corporates must shift targets to a stronger footing, to operationalise net zero and drive rapid short-term emissions cuts. 

“The message is getting through, but we have a long way to go. If governments, or corporates have set out a fully-fledged plan, they must quickly clarify how they will reach their targets. It is problematic that only a small fraction of government and corporate leaders are currently held accountable for their emission reduction actions.”  


About the latest Net Zero Tracker analysis: 

The latest analysis from the NZT released today – and outlined above, reflects a snapshot of global net zero targets taken on 16th November 2021. The snapshot examines the net zero targets of 135 countries; 229 cities, 110 states and regions, plus 632 of the world’s largest companies by revenue that have set net zero targets.  The criteria assessments of entities’ net zero targets use the following metrics (rather than number counts) to provide a fuller picture of net zero targets globally: for countries, we measure criteria as a share of emissions; for cities and regions as a share of population; and for companies as a share of annual revenue. 


About the Net Zero Tracker: 

The Net Zero Tracker is a global initiative led by the Energy & Climate Intelligence UnitData-Driven EnviroLabNewClimate Institute and Oxford University’s Net Zero Initiative that assesses global net zero targets to promote transparency and ambition. The NZT is geared to analyse 4,000+ actors’ pledges – encompassing governments, regions, cities and corporations, using open-source documents and data to categorize net zero targets in a comparable way. 


The NZT builds on the ECIU and Oxford’s Taking Stock’ report, and  the ‘Navigating the Nuances of Net Zero’ report by the NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven EnviroLab, the first systematic analyses of global net zero commitments across countries, sub-national governments and major companies. The NZT is designed to enable state actors, businesses, campaigners, academics, and the public to benchmark the quantity and quality of net zero targets in order to track progress towards global climate targets on an ongoing basis. The NZT relies on a combination of machine learning, a team of trained volunteers and experienced climate policy analysts to keep tabs in real-time on both the quantity and, importantly, quality of net zero targets. It will eventually include more entities, and comes with a website allowing users to freely access, download and analyse data. 

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