While the coronavirus lockdowns temporarily improved air quality in many places, the measures weren’t enough to stop May being the warmest on record. The climate crisis—unlike the economic one—has not taken a significant pause.
So, on World Environment Day, the timing is good for the launch of a new United Nations-backed campaign called Race to Zero, comprising a coalition of big businesses, investors, academics, cities, states and regions that have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Some companies, such as Nestlé and Unilever, had already signed up to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (it’s already up around 1.2 degrees, and the 1.5-degree limit is looking very optimistic.) New participants announced Friday include the likes of booze giant Diageo, fashion firms H&M and Inditex, software developer Adobe, and plane-engine-maker Rolls-Royce.
“The world on the other side of this pandemic will need the power that we generate to fuel economic recovery,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East in a statement. “I absolutely believe the call for that power to be more sustainable and net zero will be stronger than ever. Few companies on the planet are better placed than Rolls-Royce to help. We will use our capabilities to play a leading role in enabling the vital sectors in which we operate to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”
The Amazon-led Climate Pledge organization has also joined the Race for Zero campaign.
Perhaps to pre-empt accusations of greenwashing, the campaign has publicly released a set of minimum criteria for those wishing to join, involving clear pledges and explainable steps for achieving the targets.
The drive to achieve net-zero emissions over the next few decades has already gathered significant momentum. According to figures released Friday by the U.K.-based Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), 53% of the global economy has already set or is intending to set such a target—that includes not only countries such as Germany, the U.K. and Cambodia, but also powerhouse states such as California and New York State.
“With the Race to Zero campaign the UN High Level Climate Champions are firing the start gun on a race to the top on climate action. Their aim is to accelerate the groundswell of climate ambition we’re already seeing across the real economy as we invest in the recovery from the pandemic,” said Alison Doig, the international lead at the ECIU, in a statement.
However, Doig also stressed that “no entity can reach net zero in 2050 without starting now, and so it’s entirely sensible that in order to qualify for entry to the Race to Zero, participants will have to present delivery plans, including setting interim targets for the next decade,” by the time next year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow, Scotland.
Also on Friday, a group including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and several U.N. agencies launched a renewed call for coronavirus stimulus measures to be green in nature.
“There are already some inspiring examples of countries and decision makers taking leadership to prioritize green and pro-poor stimulus packages,” said the Partners for Inclusive Green Economies. “If these efforts can build towards deeper and more integrated policy approaches, developed in consultation with stakeholders and civil society, the response to COVID-19 could provide a powerful accelerator for achieving the [U.N.’s] Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”
Many countries are putting an environmental sheen on their recovery packages—something of a no-brainer, given that stimulus measures without this element would leave little money for rescuing the climate later on. Recent examples include the French and German governments increasing subsidies for people buying electric cars, and the European Union steering some of its stimulus cash towards sealing up drafty buildings and boosting the use of clean hydrogen fuel.