Turning a groundswell of climate action into ground rules for net zero

08 April 2024

Nature Climate Change

Hale, T., Wetzer, T., Abebe, S.K. et al. Turning a groundswell of climate action into ground rules for net zero. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-024-01967-7

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Following a groundswell of voluntary net-zero targets by companies, regulators are increasingly introducing mandatory rules. If governments can overcome the barriers to rigour, coherence and fairness, such mandatory ‘ground rules’ have the potential to overcome the obstructionism that holds back a just climate transition.

From its origins in climate science, ‘net zero’ has moved quickly to become a global goal and a target that individual countries, local governments, companies and other actors have committed to achieve1,2,3. Weighted by annual revenue, net-zero targets now cover nearly 80% of the largest 2,000 publicly traded companies globally, up from less than 20% in 20204,5. However, the robustness of these targets varies substantially4,5. Some represent serious efforts to decarbonize, others are vague or dissembling. Perhaps the majority fall somewhere in between, as companies and financial institutions seek to align to social expectations, meet policy goals and reap the benefits of the transition, while also minimizing cost and retaining flexibility in light of uncertainty around society’s transition pathway6. With implementation lagging ambition, net-zero regulations — understood here as rules that require firms to align to the mitigation goals in Articles 2 and 4 of the Paris Agreement by reducing emissions in the near term to reach a long-term state of net zero — are a critical piece of the broader ‘implementation gap’ identified in the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement.