Race to Net Zero: Carbon Neutral Goals by Country
The time to talk about net zero goals is running out, and the time to put them into action is well underway.
At the U.S. Climate Summit in April 2021, U.S. President Biden pressured countries to either speed up carbon neutral pledges, or commit to them in the first place.
It’s a follow-up to the Paris Agreement, which keeps signatories committed to reaching carbon neutrality in emissions in the second half of the 21st century. But 2050–2100 is a wide timeframe, and climate change is becoming both increasingly present and more dire.
So when are countries committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions, and how serious is their pledge? This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council highlights the world’s carbon neutral pledges.
The Timeline of Carbon Neutral Targets by Country
The first question is how quickly countries are trying to get to net zero.
137 countries have committed to carbon neutrality, as tracked by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit and confirmed by pledges to the Carbon Neutrality Coalition and recent policy statements by governments.
But the earlier the pledge, the better, and most of the commitments are centered around 2050.
|Antigua and Barbuda||2050|
|Central African Republic||2050|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||2050|
|Papua New Guinea||2050|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||2050|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||2050|
|Sao Tome and Principe||2050|
|Trinidad and Tobago||2050|
|Australia||2050 – 2100|
|Singapore||2050 – 2100|
As far as early achievers go, Bhutan and Suriname are the only two countries that have achieved carbon neutrality and are actually carbon negative (removing more carbon than they emit). Uruguay’s 2030 target is the earliest to try and match that feat, followed by Europe’s Finland, Austria, Iceland, Germany, and Sweden, who are all targeting 2045 or earlier.
Over 90%, or 124 of the 137 countries tracked above, set a target of 2050 for reaching carbon neutrality. This is largely due to membership in the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, which asks member states to target 2050 for their goal but leaves commitment up to them.
Only five countries have net zero pledges set for after 2050, including Australia and Singapore, which haven’t set a firm target yet. Targeting 2060, in addition to Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is the world’s largest emitter, China. The country’s recent pledge is significant, since China accounts for an estimated 25% of global emissions.
In fact, according to the Climate Action Tracker, 73% of global emissions are currently covered by net zero targets.
How Seriously Are Countries Committing to Carbon Neutrality?
Setting a goal is perhaps the easiest step towards carbon neutrality. But the real challenge is in solidifying that goal and starting to make progress towards it. That’s why it’s important to consider how deeply committed each country’s carbon neutral pledge truly is.
The most rigid commitments are enshrined in law, followed by official government policy, though the latter can change alongside governments. Likewise, proposed legislation shows forward momentum in making pledges a reality, but proposals can take a long time to become enacted (or get derailed).
As it turns out, the vast majority of carbon neutral targets are only under discussion, with no formal action being taken to act on them.
|Costa Rica||Policy Document|
|Marshall Islands||Policy Document|
|South Africa||Policy Document|
|Vatican City||Policy Document|
|European Union||Proposed Legislation|
|South Korea||Proposed Legislation|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Under Discussion|
|Burkina Faso||Under Discussion|
|Cabo Verde||Under Discussion|
|Central African Republic||Under Discussion|
|Cook Islands||Under Discussion|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||Under Discussion|
|Dominican Republic||Under Discussion|
|Papua New Guinea||Under Discussion|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Under Discussion|
|Saint Lucia||Under Discussion|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Under Discussion|
|Sao Tome and Principe||Under Discussion|
|Sierra Leone||Under Discussion|
|Solomon Islands||Under Discussion|
|South Sudan||Under Discussion|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Under Discussion|
Uruguay’s 2030 target might be the earliest, but it is not yet set in stone. The earliest commitment actually enshrined in law is Sweden’s 2045 target.
Including Sweden, only six countries have passed their carbon neutral targets into law. They include Denmark, France, Hungary, New Zealand, and the UK.
An additional five countries have proposed legislation in the works, including Canada and South Korea, as well as the entirety of the EU.
Meanwhile, 24 countries have their climate targets set as official policy. They include Brazil, China, Germany and the U.S., some of the world’s largest emitters.
99 of the 137 pledges are only under discussion at this time, or more than 72%. That means that they have no official standing as of yet, and are harder to act on. But as time starts to pass, pressure on countries to act on their carbon neutral pledges is beginning to grow.
The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.
An Introduction to MSCI ESG Indexes
With an extensive suite of ESG indexes on offer, MSCI aims to support investors as they build a more personalized and resilient portfolio.
An Introduction to MSCI ESG Indexes
There are various portfolio objectives within the realm of sustainable investing.
For example, some investors may want to build a portfolio that reflects their personal values. Others may see environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria as a tool for improving long-term returns, or as a way to create positive impact. A combination of all three of these motivations is also possible.
To support investors as they embark on their sustainable journey, our sponsor, MSCI, offers over 1,500 purpose-built ESG indexes. In this infographic, we’ll take a holistic view at what these indexes are designed to achieve.
An Extensive Suite of ESG & Climate Indexes
Below, we’ll summarize the four overarching objectives that MSCI’s ESG & climate indexes are designed to support.
Objective 1: Integrate a broad set of ESG issues
Investors with this objective believe that incorporating ESG criteria can improve their long-term risk-adjusted returns.
The MSCI ESG Leaders indexes are designed to support these investors by targeting companies that have the highest ESG-rated performance from each sector of the parent index.
For those who do not wish to deviate from the parent index, the MSCI ESG Universal indexes may be better suited. This family of indexes will adjust weights according to ESG performance to maintain the broadest possible universe.
Objective 2: Generate social or environmental benefits
A common challenge that impact investors face is measuring their non-financial results.
Consider an asset owner who wishes to support gender diversity through their portfolios. In order to gauge their success, they would need to regularly filter the entire investment universe for updates regarding corporate diversity and related initiatives.
In this scenario, linking their portfolios to an MSCI Women’s Leadership Index would negate much of this groundwork. Relative to a parent index, these indexes aim to include companies which lead their respective countries in terms of female representation.
Objective 3: Exclude controversial activities
Many institutional investors have mandates that require them to avoid certain sectors or industries. For example, approximately $14.6 trillion in institutional capital is in the process of divesting from fossil fuels.
To support these efforts, MSCI offers indexes that either:
- Exclude individual sectors such as fossil fuels, tobacco, or weapons;
- Exclude companies from a combination of these sectors; or
- Exclude companies that are not compatible with certain religious values.
Objective 4: Identify climate risks and opportunities
Climate change poses a number of wide-reaching risks and opportunities for investors, making it difficult to tailor a portfolio accordingly.
With MSCI’s climate indexes, asset owners gain the tools they need to build a more resilient portfolio. The MSCI Climate Change indexes, for example, reduce exposure to stranded assets, increase exposure to solution providers, and target a minimum 30% reduction in emissions.
An Index for Every Objective
Regardless of your motivation for pursuing sustainable investment, the need for an appropriate benchmark is something that everyone shares.
With an extensive suite of ESG indexes designed specifically for sustainability and climate change, MSCI aims to support asset owners as they build a more unique and personalized portfolio.
Tracked: The U.S. Utilities ESG Report Card
This graphic acts as an ESG report card that tracks the ESG metrics reported by different utilities in the U.S.—what gets left out?
Tracked: The U.S. Utilities ESG Report Card
As emissions reductions and sustainable practices become more important for electrical utilities, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting is coming under increased scrutiny.
Once seen as optional by most companies, ESG reports and sustainability plans have become commonplace in the power industry. In addition to reporting what’s needed by regulatory state laws, many utilities utilize reporting frameworks like the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) ESG Initiative or the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards.
But inconsistent regulations, mixed definitions, and perceived importance levels have led some utilities to report significantly more environmental metrics than others.
How do U.S. utilities’ ESG reports stack up? This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council tracks the ESG metrics reported by 50 different U.S. based investor-owned utilities (IOUs).
What’s Consistent Across ESG Reports
To complete the assessment of U.S. utilities, ESG reports, sustainability plans, and company websites were examined. A metric was considered tracked if it had concrete numbers provided, so vague wording or non-detailed projections weren’t included.
Of the 50 IOU parent companies analyzed, 46 have headquarters in the U.S. while four are foreign-owned, but all are regulated by the states in which they operate.
For a few of the most agreed-upon and regulated measures, U.S. utilities tracked them almost across the board. These included direct scope 1 emissions from generated electricity, the utility’s current fuel mix, and water and waste treatment.
Another commonly reported metric was scope 2 emissions, which include electricity emissions purchased by the utility companies for company consumption. However, a majority of the reporting utilities labeled all purchased electricity emissions as scope 2, even though purchased electricity for downstream consumers are traditionally considered scope 3 or value-chain emissions:
- Scope 1: Direct (owned) emissions.
- Scope 2: Indirect electricity emissions from internal electricity consumption. Includes purchased power for internal company usage (heat, electrical).
- Scope 3: Indirect value-chain emissions, including purchased goods/services (including electricity for non-internal use), business travel, and waste.
ESG Inconsistencies, Confusion, and Unimportance
Even putting aside mixed definitions and labeling, there were many inconsistencies and question marks arising from utility ESG reports.
For example, some utilities reported scope 3 emissions as business travel only, without including other value chain emissions. Others included future energy mixes that weren’t separated by fuel and instead grouped into “renewable” and “non-renewable.”
The biggest discrepancies, however, were between what each utility is required to report, as well as what they choose to. That means that metrics like internal energy consumption didn’t need to be reported by the vast majority.
Likewise, some companies didn’t need to report waste generation or emissions because of “minimal hazardous waste generation” that fell under a certain threshold. Other metrics like internal vehicle electrification were only checked if the company decided to make a detailed commitment and unveil its plans.
As pressure for the electricity sector to decarbonize continues to increase at the federal level, however, many of these inconsistencies are roadblocks to clear and direct measurements and reduction strategies.
National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.
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