Secretary-General Will Push Business, Investors, Cities to ‘Walk the Talk’ on Net-Zero Pledges, Launching Expert Group as Climate Crisis Worsens
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today launched his Expert Group to develop stronger and clearer standards for net-zero emissions pledges by non-State entities — including businesses, investors, cities and regions — and speed up their implementation.
The launch of the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities comes amid a worsening climate crisis and growing urgency for all commitments to be transparent, credible, backed by robust implementation plans, and converted into real emissions cuts as rapidly as possible.
“Despite growing pledges of climate action, global emissions are at an all-time high. They continue to rise,” the Secretary-General said. “The latest science shows that climate disruption is causing havoc in every region — right now. We are in a race against time to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. And we are losing.”
“Governments have the lion’s share of responsibility to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. Especially the G20. But we also urgently need every business, investor, city, state and region to walk the talk on their net-zero promises,” he said.
“To avert a climate catastrophe, we need bold pledges matched by concrete action. Tougher net-zero standards and strengthened accountability around the implementation of these commitments can deliver real and immediate emissions cuts.”
The Expert Group’s recommendations for higher ambition and environmental integrity will address four areas:
- Current standards and definitions for setting net-zero targets;
- Credibility criteria used to assess the objectives, measurement and reporting of net-zero pledges;
- Processes for verification and accounting of progress towards net-zero commitments and reported decarbonization plans; and
- A road map to translate standards and criteria into international and national-level regulations.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), the Secretary-General flagged a clear need for more credible and robust standards and criteria for measuring, analysing and reporting net-zero emissions pledges by non-State entities. Today’s launch is a key step towards meeting that need.
The Expert Group will be gender-balanced and will consist of respected and independent experts, drawn from a diverse group of countries and regions. They will work in their personal capacity.
The Group will be chaired by Catherine McKenna, former Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Ms. McKenna said: “The recent avalanche of net-zero pledges by businesses, investors, cities and regions will be vital to keep 1.5°C alive and to build towards a safe and healthy planet, but only if all pledges have transparent plans, robust near-term action, and are implemented in full.”
The Expert Group will make recommendations before the end of the year.
The Members of the Group are below and short biographies can be found in Appendix 1. Further members may be added in the period ahead.
Ms. Amanda Starbuck
Dr. Arunabha Ghosh
Mr. Bill Hare
Ms. Camila Escobar
Mr. Carlos Lopes
Ms. Catherine McKenna (Chair)
Mr. Günther Thallinger
Ms. Helena Viñes Fiestas
Ms. Jessica Omukuti
Mr. Joaquim Levy
Ms. Malango Mughogho
Ms. Mary Nichols
Ms. Kahori Miyake
Mr. Oumar Tatam Ly
Mr. Rod Carr
Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan
The Terms of Reference for the Group can be found in Appendix 2.
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Appendix 1: Biographical Information on members of the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities
Ms. Amanda Starbuck (United Kingdom) is the Programme Director of “The Sunrise Project”, a prominent civil society organization. Before that, she previously served as the programme director for Greenpeace in South America, responsible for setting the organization’s strategic direction and priority campaigns across the region. Previously, she led the global finance team at the Rainforest Action Network.
Mr. Arunabha Ghosh (India) is the CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a climate and energy think tank in India and around the world. Dr. Ghosh also serves on the Government of India’s G20 Advisory Group. He previously acted as Co-Chair of the energy, environment and climate change track for India’s Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP2020).
Mr. Bill Hare (Australia) is the co-founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, an international non-profit climate science and policy institute based in Germany. He was a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report and has supported international and regional scientific assessment processes in different capacities.
Ms. Camila Escobar (Colombia) is the CEO at Juan Valdez Café. She is a former manager at Belcorp — a multinational cosmetics company present in 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries — and McKinsey.
Mr. Carlos Lopes (Guinea-Bissau) is the Commissioner at the Global Commission for Economy and Climate. He is currently a professor at the University of Cape Town, a visiting professor at Sciences Po, and an associate fellow in the Africa Programme and Chatham House. Mr. Lopes is a former Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.
Ms. Catherine McKenna (Canada) is a former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, from 2015 to 2019, and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, from 2019 until 2021. She is a founder and principal of Climate and Nature Solutions and of Women Leading on Climate, launched at COP26 in Glasgow.
Mr. Günther Thallinger (Austria) is a member of the Board of the Allianz Group and Chairperson of its ESG Board. He is also Chair of the United Nations-Convened Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance.
Ms. Helena Viñes Fiestas (Spain) is the Commissioner of the Spanish Financial Markets Authority and Rapporteur of the European Union Platform on Sustainable Finance. She was previously a senior policy adviser on sustainable finance at BNP Paribas.
Ms. Jessica Omukuti (Kenya) is a research fellow on inclusive net zero at the Oxford Net-Zero Institute for Science Innovation and Society (InSIS), Oxford University. Her research is focused on understanding how responses to climate change affect societies in the global South.
Mr. Joaquim Levy (Brazil) is the Director for Economic Strategy and Market Relations at Banco Safra S.A. He served as Minister for Finance (2014-2015), Managing Director and CFO of the World Bank Group (2016-2018), and President of the Brazilian Development Bank (2018-2019).
Ms. Malango Mughogho (Malawi/South Africa) is Managing Director of ZeniZeni Sustainable Finance. She led the team that developed the early stages of South Africa’s National Climate Finance Strategy and is currently a climate finance expert on the Regional Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership’s Southern Africa Coordination Unit. Among other things, Ms. Mughogho co-authored UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook 6 for Business brief “Changing finance to catalyse transformation: how financial institutions can accelerate the transition to an environmentally sustainable economy”.
Ms. Mary Nichols (United States) is the Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy. She is a former Chair of the California Air Resources Board, and was California’s Secretary for Natural Resources between 1999 and 2003. Before that, Ms. Nichols served as Assistant Administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation during the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton, and headed the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.
Ms. Kahori Miyake (Japan) is the Co-Chair of Japan Climate Leaders’ Partnership (JCLP). She was previously President and Representative Director of Claire’s Japan Co. in 2008, and acted as General Manager of the Group Customer Service Department, AEON RETAIL Co in 2013.
Mr. Oumar Tatam Ly (Mali) is a former Prime Minister (2013-2014). He previously served as Special Adviser to the Governor of the Central Bank of West African States, and Chairman of the board of directors of the West Africa Monetary Union Pension Fund (CRRAE-UMOA).
Mr. Rod Carr (New Zealand) is Chairperson of the New Zealand Climate Change Commission. He priorly served as Chair and non-executive director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Deputy Governor and Acting Governor.
Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan (China) served as Governor of the People’s Bank of China from 2002 to 2018.
Appendix 2: Terms of Reference for the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities
Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world has seen an increasing number of net-zero commitments and pledges by non-State actors, in particular from the private and financial sectors, as well as local government and regions.
The growth in pledges has been accompanied by a proliferation of criteria and benchmarks to set net-zero commitments with varying levels of robustness. There is now a perceived lack of clear, transparent, and generally accepted sets of standards and criteria for the development, measurement, assessment, and accountability of non-State net-zero pledges and their associated implementation. This perception risks undermining the commitments and actions of stakeholders who are serious in delivering on their pledges upon joining the global coalition for net-zero called for by the Secretary-General; and it enables greenwashing, announcements that lack concrete decarbonization plans, undue reliance on the use of offsets and potential unrealistic dependence on removals (in lieu of concrete mitigation action) to reduce absolute emissions which is the priority this decade.
To ensure that net-zero emissions commitments and implementation are aligned with the goal of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C goal and credibly contribute their fair share to urgently cutting emissions in this decade to achieve a decline of 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, the UN Secretary-General is proposing to convene a High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (HLEG) to help ensure credibility and accountability of net-zero pledges.
Building on existing initiatives and work around transparency and credibility of standards and criteria for net-zero commitments, best available science, emerging digital monitoring evaluation and verification capabilities and scenarios for achieving net zero aligned with the 1.5°C goal, the HLEG will develop recommendations on:
- Current standards and definitions for setting net zero targets by non-State actors and, if necessary, on additional elements to enhance these to achieve the highest possible integrity of standards for net zero targets.
- Credibility criteria used to assess the stated objectives, measurement and reporting of net zero pledges by non-State actors.
- Processes for the international community to verify and account in a transparent manner non-State actors’ progress towards meeting their net-zero commitments and the fulfilment of their reported decarbonization plans, including any reliance on carbon dioxide removal and offsets. These processes for reporting will also consider to the extent possible methodologies to assess the aggregate impact and comparability of non-State actor efforts including to potentially serve as an input into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s stocktake of international climate efforts in 2023 and beyond; and
- A road map to translate these standards and criteria into international and national level regulations, in the context of a just transition.
The High-Level Expert Group will cover net-zero pledges and commitments from non-State actors: private sector (businesses), including that of financial institutions, as well as those by subnational entities (local and regional governments).
Mode of Operation
In undertaking its work to formulate its findings and recommendations, the High-Level Expert Group will build on existing credibility and standard setting frameworks for net-zero pledges to formulate its findings and recommendations.
The High-Level Expert Group will be supported by a small technical secretariat to be housed in the Climate Action Team in the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General.
The High-Level Expert Group LEG will rely on the following modalities:
- High-Level Expert Group meetings: The HLEG will meet as often as needed (virtually, in-person) based on a work programme to be developed at its first meeting to ensure delivery of the HLEG’s objectives within 9 to 12 months of its first meeting. Individual panel members may also convene and participate in thematic and regional meetings and consultations.
- Consultations: The HLEG will engage in consultations and dialogue with a broad range of stakeholders including Member States, UN entities, companies, financial institutions, business associations and networks, civil society, local and regional governments, academia, youth, indigenous peoples’ networks and ongoing initiatives and platforms focused on net-zero commitments by non-State actors in a transparent and inclusive manner.
- Scientific and policy support: The Core Group of Climate Principals chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General which includes the WMO, ILO, UNFCCC, UNEP, UNDP, DESA, SRSG for Sustainable Energy for All, SRSG for Oceans, and UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance will advise the HLEG in its deliberations and provide the scientific and policy support.
The Secretary-General will appoint members to the HLEG. In doing so, due consideration will be given to relevant qualifications of candidates and to ensure gender, geographic and thematic balance. The Secretary-General will also select the Chair of the HLEG from one of its members.
In addition to having the requisite expertise and experience necessary to contribute to the work of the HLEG, members must abide by a code of conduct in line with United Nations principles to ensure the impartiality and independence of the HLEG, eliminate any possible conflicts of interest and not use their position for the purpose of financial gain.
Members of the HLEG should be recognized as honest brokers, and shall serve in an individual, personal and independent capacity.
The following non-exhaustive areas of expertise and constituencies will be covered by the overall composition of the HLEG:
- International and national corporate disclosure standard setters and bodies (including, but not limited to, ESG, carbon and climate disclosure standard setters)
- Securities and accounting regulators
- Regulatory and policy bodies supervising the global financial system
- Local and regional net zero transition policies, laws and regulations
- Standard setters for net zero pathways
- Leading global Civil Society Organizations including youth
- Climate Science
The HLEG will provide a report to the Secretary-General with its findings and recommendations within 9 to 12 months of its first meeting, which will take place in early 2022.
Staffing and Budget
The HLEG will be supported by a full-time technical secretariat to be housed in the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Team and funded by donor resources. This funding will be provided without stipulation of outcomes or objectives or conditions of any kind during the work of the HLEG.
The technical secretariat shall seek to leverage existing platforms and partners, including UN agencies, working in the related domains. Decisions on resource allocations and expenditures will be made by Assistant Secretary-General Selwin Hart in consultation with the head of the technical secretariat.