Climate Action

Race to Zero strengthens and clarifies campaign criteria

With six months to go before COP26, Race to Zero is publishing its refined criteria which all Partner initiatives must meet through a rigorous application process, reviewed by an independent Expert Peer Review Group.

  • 30 April 2021
  • Press Release

With six months to go before COP26, non-state actors are showing increasing convergence around Race to Zero as the commonly held credible minimum standard for net zero commitments. Now, nearly one year since the campaign was launched on World Environment Day 2020, Race to Zero is publishing its refined criteria which all Partner initiatives must meet through a rigorous application process, reviewed by an independent Expert Peer Review Group. 

Between January and March 2021, the University of Oxford helped facilitate this review process by chairing eight online consultation sessions with 30 presentations from academics, practitioners, and experts, summarised here. Over 200 participants joined these sessions, including representatives from the networks and initiatives that are part of Race to Zero, and a larger set of individuals with expertise in non-state and subnational climate action who are not affiliated with the Race to Zero.

The review process honoured the commitment made at launch by the Race to Zero campaign in June 2020 to review its criteria on an annual basis to ensure that these are keeping pace with science and best practice, and to help the entire climate action community converge around robust approaches in line with halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050 at the very latest.  

Owing to the fact that the concept of net zero is complex and the science and best practices are developing fast, this criteria update is part of an ongoing process in partnership with the climate action community. As a next step in this process, the Champions will continue an expanded stakeholder engagement process to identify and gather feedback on implementation and accountability around non-state actions. The new criteria take effect on June 1, consultations on criteria and accountability will be convened throughout the European summer, and will be reflected in the campaign’s work-plans in advance of COP26.

Dr Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Environment, Energy and Ecology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said “Any company, city, university etc. can claim that it is going net zero by 2050, but joining Race to Zero is a clear stamp of the credibility of such a claim. The campaign is a powerful mechanism to bring these non-state actors to the starting line and drives convergence across non-state actors for what robust net zero plans look like. That said, credible net zero pledges will only deliver a zero carbon future in line with a 1.5C pathway if they are enacted meaningfully and swiftly, so it’s great to see Race to Zero honing in on the Plan and Proceed components of the criteria.”

Enhanced specificity of climate commitments

The review found that the core principles of the criteria – pledge, plan, proceed, and publish – were robust and in line with climate science. The major changes, therefore, were critical additions to include a stronger emphasis on:

  • actors demonstrating how they will contribute towards or beyond their fair share of halving emissions by 2030;
  • additional clarity around the need for members to include all scopes of emissions (Scopes 1, 2 and 3) in their emissions reduction targets;
  • enhanced specificity around the language of residual emissions, sources and credits, with a critical emphasis on abatement measures; and
  • the introduction of leadership practices on equity and empowerment, to reiterate the importance of operationalizing principles of equity in pledges and actions, as well as encouraging broader information sharing, capacity building and access to finance. 

Initiatives are reviewed on an annual basis by the Expert Peer Review Group, and those initiatives or their members who fail to meet these criteria will be removed from the campaign.

In addition to these criteria updates, the High-Level Climate Champions shared their position on the involvement of oil and gas companies in Race to Zero. Specifically, to join Race to Zero, oil and gas companies will not only need to commit to an initiative that is part of Race to Zero, they will be required to  have an approved Science Based Target (SBT) based on the oil and gas methodology in order to be considered for the campaign. This methodology is still in development.  

In the meantime, the Champions will engage with all sectors via multi-stakeholder dialogues with companies, the science community, investors, civil society and policy makers, to identify barriers and opportunities to accelerate the transition to a 1.5°-aligned world, and encourage oil and gas companies to strengthen their transition plans in line with what the science requires.

Gonzalo Munoz, Chilean High Level Climate Champion for COP25, said: “Net zero has become the guiding star for climate ambition, with net zero commitments growing exponentially from companies, cities, regions, investors and universities across the world. Our mission with Race to Zero is to maintain the integrity of these efforts, and firmly establish the minimum floor for climate ambition with rigorous criteria and a transparent process. Ensuring the credibility of climate action is crucial if we are to deliver a zero carbon world in time.”

Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Champion for COP26, said: “Race to Zero is rallying non-state actors across regions and across society to join forces in racing to halve emissions by 2030. We’re constantly striving to improve our understanding of how to achieve what the science dictates is needed, and we need everyone, everywhere, to join us in building a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon world.”

Find out more here.