The terms carbon neutral, carbon negative, and net-zero, long familiar to scientists and environmentalists, are beginning to pop up in corporate press releases. Recently, corporations from sectors ranging from aviation to finance to retail have made commitments to an emerging form of climate action called carbon removal. Carbon removal, also known as carbon dioxide removal or negative emissions technologies, has been receiving increased attention from corporations since the landmark IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C identified it as crucial to limiting global warming below 1.5°C and warned that the world can no longer hit this target without it.
As a response to the growing number of corporate climate pledges, the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy at American University has created an Action Tracker outlining some interesting moves regarding climate action in aviation, energy, heavy industry, and other harder-to-abate sector, as well as large financial actors and retail companies. The Action Tracker includes companies that have made climate pledges that entail some use of large scale carbon removal. Some of these companies have pledged to become carbon neutral or reach net-zero emissions, while others have plans to become carbon-negative, meaning that they will be removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit. Companies with carbon negative pledges include Ikea, Microsoft, Starbucks, AstraZeneca, and Horizon Organics.
Also included in the Action Tracker are companies in harder-to-abate sectors such as aviation, steel, and cement that are making carbon neutral commitments without any apparent commitment to carbon removal. Given how challenging it is to decarbonize these sectors, any pledge to carbon neutrality in those sectors invites questions about how a particular company aims to become carbon neutral and what role, if any, carbon removal plays in each company’s plan.
A few companies in the retail sector, such as Horizon Organics and Starbucks, have independently pledged to be carbon-negative (confusingly called “carbon positive” in a few cases) using carbon removal. Many more retail companies have committed to becoming net-zero as part of the Certified B Corporations Net-Zero by 2030 pledge but lack specific plans for fulfilling their commitment.
Finally, the Action Tracker includes actors in the financial sector, such as Barclays and Harvard’s endowment, that have pledged to make their investments carbon neutral, meaning that the net carbon footprint of the activities they finance will be zero. These plans are likely to take different forms. Harvard, for instance, has indicated that its endowment managers will finance carbon removal to balance investments in greenhouse gas-emitting activities, whereas Barclays has aligned itself with the International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which explicitly excludes carbon removal. Given the importance of finance to reaching net-zero or net-negative emissions globally, the Institute finds these sorts of pledges worth tracking.
The Action Tracker is an ever-evolving resource and will be updated as new commitments are released, current pledges become more detailed, and mechanisms to achieve outlined commitments are specified.
Please email [email protected] if you have other interesting examples of carbon negative or carbon-neutral-with-carbon-removal pledges.