200 of world’s largest corporations commit to net zero emissions by 2050, reverse biodiversity loss and fight inequality

New conditions for membership to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, whose members include Chevron, APRIL, Syngenta, Dupont, Philip Morris, DBS Bank, and PepsiCo, demand action on climate, nature loss and inequality. Companies have two years to comply.

A Shell petrol station in Singapore.
A Shell petrol station in Singapore undergoing renovation. Shell is one of 200 members of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development that have committed to policies on carbon reduction, nature loss and human rights. Image: Robin Hicks/Eco-Business

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), an organisation set up to guide the world’s largest corporations towards sustainability, has set ambitious new targets for its members including net zero emissions by 2050, reversing biodiversity loss and fighting inequality.

The council’s 200 members wield major global social and environmental impact and include oil company Chevron, tobacco firm Philip Morris International, furniture retailer IKEA, automaker Toyota, agribusiness company Cargill, chemicals firm Dupont, tech giant Google, plastics firm Sabic, and consumer goods company Procter & Gamble.

The new criteria for membership, which WBCSD says will address the biggest challenges facing humanity, oblige companies to have in place science-based plans to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions within the next 30 years. Some WBCSD members have already set carbon reduction targets. For instance, Shell is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, and Unilever aims to hit net zero by 2039. Other members such as Malaysian oil company Petronas, Indian conglomerate Tata, Indonesian pulp and paper firm Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), Thai energy provider PTT Group, and Singapore’s DBS Bank will need to forge new decarbonisation plans.

The new membership criteria also include setting “ambitious” science-based goals that contribute to biodiversity recovery by 2050. 

Members must also institute a policy to respect and uphold human rights and declare support for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and commit to end discrimination.

The last of five criteria requires companies to disclose sustainability data in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a framework for companies to provide climate-related data to investors, and align how it assesses business risk with environmental, social and governance-related (ESG) risks.

WBCSD said it expects its members to produce sustainability data to a standard that enables comparisons to be made between members. The organisation clarified that the criteria would not mean more sustainability reporting for companies, rather they would be expected to make public statements about their commitments.

The deadline for compliance is December 2022. Progress will be monitored through the WBCSD’s Reporting matters platform, which will assess members’ sustainability reports annually from 2023. 

The criteria, set by WBCSD’s newly appointed executive committee, mark the Geneva-headquartered organisation’s 25th anniversary. The climate and biodiversity criteria were decided on at a meeting in Lisbon a year ago, while the focus on inequality emerged after the global civil rights movement that followed the death of George Floyd in the United States in July.

Peter Bakker, president and chief executive of WBCSD, said that consensus among members to make commitments on climate, biodiversity and inequality showed that corporations had “not lost track of the greater pressing challenges looming ahead” despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The new criteria come at a busy time for carbon neutrality target-setting. Commitments to reach net zero emissions from governments and businesses have doubled in less than a year as the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated climate action. Those committing to a zero carbon economy as part of the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign include social media giant Facebook, Asian foods producer CP Group, and car manufacturer Ford.

Today, Japan became Asia’s third government in a month to commit to net zero emissions after South Korea declared a climate emergency and pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and China said it would be carbon neutral by 2060.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world would need to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 to keep global heating to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrialisation levels and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. It has also said decarbonisation plans need to be put in action within the next 10 years. 

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