Bri­tain’s blue-chips take the green pledge

Com­pa­nies such as easy­Jet and Unilever com­mit to cut their car­bon emis­sions to net zero in next 20 years ‘Busi­ness lead­ers have faced big chal­lenges and plan­ning a sus­tain­able fu­ture has slipped out of fo­cus for some’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By

Rachel Mil­lard

SOME of Bri­tain’s big­gest busi­nesses have com­mit­ted to cut their car­bon emis­sions to net zero by 2040 as the UK gears up to host cru­cial in­ter­na­tional climate talks next year.

Unilever, easy­Jet, Pear­son, Deloitte, Stan­dard Char­tered and Sev­ern Trent are among al­most 50 pub­lic and pri­vate com­pa­nies mak­ing the pledge ahead of a ma­jor meeting to­day be­tween min­is­ters and busi­ness lead­ers to dis­cuss how busi­nesses can help pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

The UK has a legally bind­ing tar­get of reach­ing net zero emis­sions by 2050, and min­is­ters are keen to set an ex­am­ple as the UK gears up to host the 26th United Na­tions Climate Change Con­fer­ence (Cop26) in Glas­gow next year.

The con­fer­ence had been due to take place this year but was de­layed due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

The more than 200 busi­ness lead­ers tak­ing part in to­day’s on­line meeting will in­clude Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief ex­ec­u­tive; Bill Win­ters, boss of Stan­dard Char­tered and Simon Roberts,

Sains­bury’s boss. Chair­men and chief ex­ec­u­tives from more than half the FTSE 100 are ex­pected to at­tend.

They will be joined by Alok Sharma, Busi­ness Sec­re­tary and Ge­orge Eus­tice, the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary.

It comes as gov­ern­ments are under pres­sure to make sure that ef­forts to boost the econ­omy fol­low­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic help rather than hin­der ef­forts to cut car­bon emis­sions.

Rishi Su­nak, the Chan­cel­lor, is re­port­edly plan­ning stim­u­lus money for green en­ergy projects such as off­shore wind tur­bines and car­bon cap­ture.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has also pledged fund­ing for elec­tric cars and low-car­bon fu­els, in­sist­ing that its £681m coro­n­avirus re­cov­ery fund must not slow down ef­forts to cut car­bon emis­sions.

Cam­paign­ers ar­gue that stim­u­lus money should be con­di­tional on green tar­gets.

Reach­ing net zero is among sev­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­ments be­ing made by busi­nesses ahead of Cop26, in­clud­ing boost­ing bio­di­ver­sity at their sites.

Stan­dard Char­tered has al­ready ruled out fi­nanc­ing new coal-fired power plants, and is also cut­ting its ex­po­sure to clients whose rev­enue comes from ther­mal coal, which is mainly used in power gen­er­a­tion.

The bank also plans to “fa­cil­i­tate and fi­nance” $35bn (£28bn) of clean tech­nol­ogy and re­new­ables projects over the next four years.

Net zero is a sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ment, al­though cam­paign­ers warn that ex­ten­sive use of car­bon off­set­ting – in which a pol­luter pays, for ex­am­ple, to plant trees in an­other coun­try – can have un­in­tended con­se­quences and ob­scure the true pic­ture.

Liv Garfield, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the water com­pany Sev­ern Trent and of the Coun­cil for Sus­tain­able Busi­ness, said: “Busi­ness lead­ers have faced un­prece­dented chal­lenges these past months and plan­ning a sus­tain­able fu­ture has slipped out of fo­cus for many.

“It is more im­por­tant than ever that we stay com­mit­ted to make Bri­tain a world leader when it comes to sus­tain­able busi­ness oper­a­tions which pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Mr Sharma said: “As the hold­ers of the Cop pres­i­dency, we are urg­ing all busi­nesses to set am­bi­tious emis­sion re­duc­tion tar­gets and sus­tain­abil­ity plans.

“This is not only the right thing to do, it also makes eco­nomic sense.”

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