The United Nations is cracking down on greenwashing, and Catherine McKenna is leading the charge.

The former environment minister chairs the UN’s High-Level Expert Group (HLEG), which published a report Tuesday outlining what a credible plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions should look like. At the centre of the report are 10 recommendations that collectively urge companies, cities and other non-state actors who make net-zero commitments to align their business models and investments with scientific pathways to hold global warming at 1.5 C.

“If you're going to make a net-zero commitment, you can't just say that you have a 2050 target; that's the easy part,” McKenna told Canada’s National Observer in an interview Tuesday.

Instead, McKenna stressed that net-zero commitments require actually reducing planet-warming emissions. Moreover, she said any organization making net-zero pledges can’t also be supporting the expansion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

“There's a price of admission to say net-zero; you're either part of the solution or part of the problem,” she said.

Other recommendations in the report say organizations must set short-term targets to lower emissions because climate science requires global emissions to drop by approximately half by 2030 if there is any hope of staying onside of 1.5 C. That means technologies that don’t work as advertised — like carbon capture technology or experimental next-generation nuclear reactors — don’t have a place in a credible 2030 target.

The report also says companies and cities can’t buy their way to net zero with carbon offsets; they need to genuinely reduce their own emissions and the emissions they finance. Companies must also create transition plans for their business models, including phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy projects, and align their lobbying with climate solutions instead of delay tactics.

UN Secretary General António Guterres appointed McKenna to the role earlier this year, and explained why Tuesday at an event discussing the report during the UN’s COP27 climate conference.

Existing net-zero commitments “have loopholes wide enough to drive a diesel truck through," he said. "We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing."

The United Nations is cracking down on greenwashing. Former environment minister Catherine McKenna is leading the charge. #COP27

Guterres called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a group of scientists whose reports are considered the gold standard for climate science — “our scientific north star,” adding: “Net-zero pledges must be in line with the IPCC scenarios limiting warming to 1.5 C.”

Environmental Defence senior manager for climate finance Julie Segal applauded the HLEG report, noting “greenwashing” is a term that’s sometimes criticized as being overused. This report puts clear guidelines on what constitutes greenwashing and could restore credibility to net-zero commitments.

“The next step is now to put that in regulation and policy so none of Canada's banks or pensions can move in the wrong direction,” she said. “We need all of our policymakers and regulators from the financial sector, from the environment regulators … to come together and say this is what the financial sector needs to do to move forward to net zero and nothing else is acceptable.”

Many Canadian companies would be at risk if these recommendations became policy. For example, Canada’s largest bank, RBC, has made net-zero promises and set emission-reduction targets for 2030 that do not guarantee an overall drop in emissions. Despite setting these goals and signing onto the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) — an international club whose members have a combined $130 trillion and pledge to speed up the decarbonization of the economy — RBC has continued pumping billions of dollars into new fossil fuel projects in 2022.

The bank is also under investigation from Competition Bureau Canada over allegedly greenwashing its products, meaning it could face a financial penalty for making climate promises that are undermined through its investments.

But the new recommendations also reveal a rift between McKenna’s HLEG and GFANZ — two different UN-affiliated bodies — and their understanding of net zero. Last month, GFANZ, chaired by former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, walked back its commitment to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, which would have required members like RBC to phase out fossil fuels. Carney acknowledged tension in the alliance over any binding rules that would force its members to meaningfully clean up their portfolios.

“Race to Zero and HLEG set a line in the sand, which says we want you to stop funding new coal, oil and gas, and I think that price was too high, and the price was going to split the GFANZ coalition,” Carbon Tracker founder and member of GFANZ’s advisory board Mark Campanale told Canada’s National Observer.

“What I find very interesting about Catherine McKenna's speech today is that it's now freed up the UN secretary general's team to go back and retrench themselves on the no new fossil fuels and say it again,” he said. “It allows the secretary general and Catherine McKenna and others to be much more ambitious in their statements.”

Financial institutions “just don't want to be tied down to … announcing we're not going to fund new fossil fuels. It's a real shame for me because I think that's the key metric, but that's where they're at at the moment,” he added.

Segal said GFANZ has been a “boom and a fizzle” since it was officially launched last year at COP26. Because GFANZ is trying to pull away from scientific metrics for its members, it's losing credibility, she said.

Campanale agreed scientific metrics are what matter most. Too many companies are setting net-zero by 2050 targets while planning to increase their emissions over the coming decade, he said.

“Then all the emissions reductions that you need ... are all suddenly going to get deployed in the 2040s, and as if by magic you accelerate to net zero by 2050? What this group is saying is that's a load of baloney; it's not credible.

“People are being a little bit cute about emissions cuts phrasing,” he added. “What that translates into is absolute production cuts. You can't have emission cuts without production cuts.”

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"The United Nations is cracking down on greenwashing, and Catherine McKenna is leading the charge."

As federal Environment Minister, McKenna was an expert greenwasher for new pipelines and LNG projects. Infamous for her robotic recital of Liberal talking points.
McKenna staunchly defended the Trudeau government's plan to fail on climate.
McKenna peddled the Liberal lie that we need to boost fossil fuel production to fund the energy transition.

Michael Harris: "… Although Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna continue to say all the right things on the environment, their rhetoric is emptier than a limp balloon."

"McKenna's bafflegab fails to counter that GHG targets keep being missed" (ipolitics)

When the IPCC called for swift climate action, then-Environment Minister Catherine McKenna stalled for time:
"We are in a transition. So transitions don't happen overnight."
"The reality is this is a transition that is going to take decades."
"But the reality is people are still using oil and gas. We haven't gotten to the point that there isn't this demand for it."

McKenna redefined "transition away from fossil fuels". Transitions start by moving in the direction you wish to travel. Doubling down on fossil fuels takes us in the wrong direction.
When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Jim Carr, Catherine McKenna: "Benefits and impact of Trans Mountain transcend any one province" (Edmonton Journal, Feb 21, 2018)
"Simply put, any natural resource development needs to demonstrate how it will fit within our national climate and clean growth plan – because meeting our climate targets is non-negotiable."

Catherine McKenna: "With all projects, we take into account the emissions, and we make decisions based on science, evidence and facts, and when it comes to all projects, they also need to fit in with our climate plan—and they need to take into account those emissions."
"5 quotes about staying the course on climate change from Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna" (January 19, 2017)

"Everything we do has to be consistent," McKenna told The West Block's Vassy Kapelos. "It's really (that) a project has to overall fit within our climate plan. Let's take Alberta, Alberta's a great example … We know that projects in the oil sands have to fit in that hard cap, so that's good."
Alberta's emissions cap provides 'certainty' for future energy projects: McKenna" (Global News, Feb 11, 2018)

"Moreover, she said any organization making net-zero pledges can’t also be supporting the expansion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas."

Does that include the Govt of Canada, of which Catherine McKenna was a prominent member?

Points taken, and largely agreed.

Beyond fossils, I also attended a public workshop hosted by Ms. McKenna in her riding regarding the electoral system and, uh, its reform. Much good that did.

Skepticism is certainly warranted but she did choose not to run again -- didn't want to continue the charade? -- in 2021 when, odds are, she would have been reelected. I think she had also been on the receiving end of some abusive harrassment.

I'm prepared to wait and see but I tend to fall in with Greta on the value of the annual COP meetings. We're at #27 now and everyone seems to be still, metaphorically, peeing around the yard to protect their turf (my industry/way of life is more important than your industry/lifestyle; you make the cuts).

Katherine McKenna decision to not run in the Liberal govt and to be in a policy making-influencing at the UN gives weight to her credentials as an serious environmentalist. She chose to leave a place she could not sufficiently influence... How are we going to have reputable and capable people willing to run for leadership positions if we continually take strips out of them, even when they take credible and meaningful positions?

"Catherine McKenna says Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will make B.C. coast safer" (CBC, Mar 15, 2018)
"It's an example of the economy and the environment going together.
"I know people have concerns in B.C. We did much greater consultations. We had meaningful consultations with Indigenous peoples. We looked at the science. And we took into account the climate-related impacts, the upstream emissions. We also announced our national climate plan, so the project fits within our climate plan, and it also fits within Alberta's. Alberta has a hard cap on emissions from the oilsands. And we announced our oceans protection plan.
"We are investing in a clean economy, including investments that we're making here in British Columbia, whether it's in public transit or energy efficiency. We're in a transition and we need good projects to go ahead. Transitions don't happen overnight.
"We're absolutely committed to meeting our [emissions] target, working with provinces and territories and municipalities, but we're also committed to growing our economy and creating jobs. You need to do both.
"I just think we're really better as a country when we're together. And I think it is unfortunate that you have two progressive governments that support climate action and there are other politicians who, I don't think, believe climate change is real.
"I think that it's time for political leadership, including here in British Columbia, to say we understand the environment and the economy go together, and we're going to make sure that happens in a responsible way."

I'm with Pounder on this. Sure, it's good that she left a toxic politics that clearly is unable to do almost anything useful - but she was an integral part of it and didn't leave with any message that would help Canadians understand what really happens. When she explicitly calls out her former political colleagues' criminal inaction on climate, I'll be pleased. If she can do something good in her current role, great, but she's starting from an inauspicious place.

Of course the gov't of Canada fails the test proposed by McKenna, with oil pipelines and new offshore drilling. I presume this is part of why she declined to run again!

All in all, she is quite rightly recommending that everybody do exactly what her government didn't.

Kudos to Catherine McKenna! I agree that her hands were tied while she was Federal Minister of Environment, although some progress was made at that time. She is now in a position where she can have some real influence and this report is a start. But the hour is extremely late for us to collectively take action on the Climate Emergency. I admire Ms. McKenna for continuing to press forward on this issue.
And yes, she and her staff experienced a lot of abuse.

"There are just two actions needed to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown: leave fossil fuels in the ground and stop farming animals. But, thanks to the power of the two industries, both aims are officially unmentionable. Neither of them has featured in any of the declarations from the 26 climate summits concluded so far." -- George Monbiot in today's Guardian

I guess this is why Trudeau didn't attend Cop27.

It would be like an atheist attending church

Not fair, Trudeau is so a believer. What everyone seems to be forgetting as usual is that the majority of provinces have stupidly elected conservative governments in this country, and the current "leader" of the CPC is STILL flogging "axe the tax."
I saw on the news last night as Nancy Pelosi spoke after having just arrived at COP 27 and when given the microphone she pointed out that they are battling climate change deniers in Republicans who somehow, unbelievably, still might take control of the government there! It's also completely unbelievable to me that a majority of people in the States still believe there's some god or other overseeing the human species because they WANT to! This human intransigence is what may ultimately do us in as a species.
Only countries like China and Russia can act unilaterally, that is the inarguable reality. Piling on Trudeau and the Liberals is a conservative narrative that has infiltrated Canadian society despite it's unbridled nastiness. It's like the whole anti-science bent they have had around covid and public health (examination of the convoy currently going on says it all, the sheer stupidity), it has penetrated enough that all the medical people are now tip-toeing around mask mandates despite what's happening. This makes no sense. Bottom line; far too many people are unthinking, to understate it.

Agree, absolutely, that the corporate elite have instilled into our Conservative/Republican mindset a discord that will destroy us all. Trudeau has to work alongside our Conservative party members who insist everything is Trudeau's fault whether federal or provincial. How does anyone work under a daily barrage of attacks as opposed to a team effort of working together? Probably why McKenna left.

Everybody wants to blockade a pipeline route: who even suggested blockading a new highway? Or parking lot? Or air terminal?

Of course, we need air terminals so that journalists can fly to Egypt to protest carbon emissions.