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I’m going to get flack for this, but hear me out. I recently wrote about Bloomberg’s Matt Levine’s point (or question) about expectations on the part of those who buy carbon credits, which got me to thinking about how much business importance there really is to having and achieving corporate climate goals. There have been arguments on both sides, but we need to ask hard questions about the business criticality of corporate climate goals.* I started down this path a bit in April when I blogged about something Bob Eccles said on the topic.

Let’s start with a new S&P Global analysis:

“Less than half (45%) of the leading listed companies in the US have a net-zero target, according to the S&P Global Sustainable1 Net-Zero Commitments Tracker dataset… S&P Global Sustainable1 data shows that net-zero commitments supported by an interim target cover a low share of emissions in many sectors, including energy and materials.”

One would think if climate goals were business-critical in the short term (meaning explicitly and directly valued by capital markets and customers/consumers), most companies would have near- and mid-term interim targets. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Perhaps, then, the business criticality is in risk mitigation: legal, regulatory and reputation risk tend to be the most frequently cited buckets of business risks related to climate. In the US, these converge under the umbrella of greenwashing. Climate risk management rules/laws don’t currently exist, but there are legal standards about the kinds and quality of information companies provide the public. Missing climate targets (or even a meaningful change in emissions trends) rarely manifests in more than a day or two of news articles and social media posts, then the world moves on. Certainly there are exceptions – but those are far and few between.

Does failing to meet a voluntary climate goal have a meaningful impact on your business right now?

That is a brave question to ask and a fair one to explore – which we’ll do in the next blog on this topic.

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* I am not questioning whether climate goals and associated corporate actions are important for addressing climate change (i.e., a double materiality perspective). I am only exploring how companies/investors views the current business impacts (or lack thereof) climate goals have at this time.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile