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IPW: UN guidelines on ending greenwashing, and advice on accelerating climate finance

15 November 2022

UN publishes guidelines on greenwashing for non-state actors, and new report outlines why countries may not meet climate finance pledges.

IPW: UN guidelines on ending greenwashing, and advice on accelerating climate finance
António Guterres spoke at the launch of a report by the UN Expert Group on Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities. Image credit: Lev R/Shutterstock

UN secretary general publishes guidance to end greenwashing in climate pledges

“Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.”

These were the words of António Guterres at the launch of a report by the UN Expert Group on Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, which he set up in April 2022.

The report sets out guidelines for non-state actors across 10 recommendations, which cover what must be in scope and accounted for in any pledges. Broadly speaking the recommendations outline that:

  • Net zero pledges must be in line with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Targets must also cover all greenhouse emissions and all their scopes. For financial institutions, this means all of their finance activities. For businesses and cities it means all emissions – direct, indirect and those originating from supply chains.
  • Net zero pledges should be accompanied by a plan for how the transition is being made.
  • Use of carbon credits (permissions to emit carbon dioxide) for ‘beyond value chain mitigation’ should be high-integrity and shouldn’t count towards non-state actor’s interim emissions reductions.
  • City, region, finance and business net zero plans mustn’t support new supply of fossil fuels: there is no room for new investment in fossil fuel supply and there is a need to decommission and cancel existing assets.
  • Non-state actors must report publicly every year, and in detail, on their progress. This includes greenhouse gas data, in a way that can be compared with the baseline they set. Reports should be independently verified and added to the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal.

ICE’s view:

The report is comprehensive, and a shot across the bows to organisations who have been tripping over themselves to make net zero pledges without clear transition plans – with much of their mitigation efforts reliant on offsets or ignoring scope 3 emissions.

It’s the cascading effects across supply chains which will really help to accelerate a coordinated transition that delivers both economic and environmental benefit.

Confirmation: Developed countries failed to meet their promise to developing states on climate finance in 2020

At COP21, developed countries pledged to mobilise USD $100bn in climate finance for developing countries in each year from 2020 to help fund mitigation and adaptation measures.

At COP26, it was widely reported that this pledge hadn’t been met in 2020, and a new report by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) confirms this.

The report forecasts that on current pledges and trends, the promise could be met by 2023.

It also reinforces the added impetus for meeting the pledge in the face of current economic challenges due to the cost of the impacts of extreme weather, food and energy crises.

Capacity gaps in building investable project pipelines in developing countries was highlighted as a need to overcome in order to support faster flows of finance to climate-related projects.

The report notes that:

"Capacity-building support, of individuals and institutions was emphasised as being a fundamental component of support across most areas.

Capacity-building activities were seen as crucial to fostering enabling environments conducive to attracting additional climate finance and increasing the impact of the resources provided."

The report goes on to note that “developing countries should be supported in articulating their needs, including by building their capacity to integrate climate change into national development planning and manage climate project pipelines.”

ICE’s view:

A previous report by the OECD in August 2022 showed that public and private finance flows for fossil fuels were still greater than those for climate action.

This new report by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance highlights how that trend could be reversed with a real focus on understanding developing country needs so that private finance can be better aligned to investable projects.

This insight also came up in a recent ICE presidential roundtable which noted: “There is a real desire and pressure to invest in clean technology, but funds need projects to invest in from small district heating projects all the way up to bigger ticket items, so a clearer pipeline of projects is necessary.”

Supporting governments to understand their infrastructure needs to create stable, sustainable and investable pipelines is central to the Enabling Better Infrastructure programme.

Over the next few years, we’ll be building a collaborative network of country-level policymakers to build trust in the policy frameworks that help to foster a better enabling environment for infrastructure decision making.

With over 70% of total emissions coming from the global infrastructure system, fostering a faster netzero transition in infrastructure will be essential to meeting climate goals.

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  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers