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It’s time we see ‘net zero’ for the industry-sponsored farce that it is

Corporate greenwashing is abundant in London Climate Action Week. SCOTT TULLY and SALLY CLARK explain

THERE was a big kick-off last weekend. We are referring, of course, to the beginning of London Climate Action Week, with a packed schedule of well over 200-climate related events.

Some important climate justice issues have been programmed, with some great contributors, however London Climate Action Week also plays host to many less worthy actors.

And one now-familiar phrase is taking centre stage: “Net zero,” as members of the corporate class continue selling us their latest repackaged faulty solution.

These cloying “net zero” performances foreshadow a far more consequential event arriving in Glasgow in November: the UN Climate Talks, COP26.

It’s time we see “net zero” for what it is — a farce.

The British government, hosting the COP26, has used its presidency to push “net zero” schemes to the forefront.

We have the Race to Zero campaign, the Visions for a Net Zero Future project, Net Zero Summits and so on.

The British government, however, is not alone.

Those rolling out lofty “net zero” pledges includes everyone from crypto currency miners to oil and gas majors like Chevron, BP and Shell and even Nando’s

Global emissions are spiralling. But those behind “net zero” would have us believe that they can develop fanciful mechanisms to compensate for these gross excesses, balancing out emissions.

Conveniently, there’s very little action on curbing Big Polluters’ emissions right now. While some may argue that “net zero’s” beginnings were grounded in science, Big Polluters have now so fully co-opted and greenwashed the term to render its origin story moot.  Now, “net zero” pledges are as false a climate solution as an “eco-friendly” sticker on a diesel car. 

One pillar of “net zero” pledges relies on carbon capture and storage technologies — such as the controversial tree-burning BECCS scheme — but what is seldom mentioned is that these technologies look highly unlikely to work at scale. 

Meanwhile, another pillar, “nature based solutions” contravenes the rights of communities, ecosystems and even contravenes maths.

To fulfil only three “net zero” pledges from Nestle, Eni, and Shell, requires using equivalent land to all of the forests in Malaysia, every year

Even if these three corporations could secure that many forests, we would have to assume those forests stay standing (and aren’t cut down for bioenergy), the carbon absorbed is not over-counted, and that the “preservation” of these forests doesn’t result in land grabs from Indigenous peoples. Given the human rights implications alone, these schemes should be off the table. 

On past performance alone, Big Polluters should already be banned from the discussion of climate solutions. For over 50 years, they have known about the climate crisis and done everything in their power to mislead us.

Meanwhile, they also spent untold amounts sending trade association lobbyists to UN Climate Talks to lock in “net zero” related policies — including the very dubious carbon markets scheme.

At the 2005 UN climate talks, over 20 decisions officialised carbon markets and offsetting schemes. Industry trade association International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) flooded the meeting with 402 delegates — more than 26 times the average government delegation. 

Big Polluters’ influence over the climate talks is everywhere — from false solutions on the agenda like carbon markets to the “net zero” PR schemes.

When Glasgow Calls Out Polluters asked COP26 president Alok Sharma to remove Big Polluters from global climate talks –  supported by over 240 global grassroots groups – he responded with waffle. This tells us that he is not serious about removing the power of polluting companies who are destroying people’s lives, threatening communities and doing everything possible to invalidate and block real, just, people-first solutions

Some might view Big Polluters’ changed rhetoric as progress. And it certainly is a response to the growing climate justice movement led by front-line communities, women, youth, Indigenous peoples, and communities of colour. But, this isn’t progress.

We have watched Big Polluters reinvent their climate denial charade for long enough. First it wasn’t happening, then it was our fault, then it was happening but it wasn’t so bad (and still our fault). Now, it’s happening, but don’t worry: Big Polluters are the experts and have it covered. This is the industry’s final performance. Their last attempt to paint themselves as the heroes in the crisis of their own making.

We need Real Zero emissions, and the solutions are out there. It includes an immediate moratorium on oil and gas extraction, a rapid and just transition to 100 per cent renewable energy led by people on the front lines of the climate crisis, adoption of agroecology, and for developed governments to do their fair share of climate action

It is a political choice to support this corporate, PR-drenched illusion of action. “Net zero” is a big con: it’s beyond time for those in power to stop buying tickets to Big Polluters’ side show. 

Scott Tully and Sally Clark are organisers at Glasgow Calls Out Polluters

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