Ross Clark Ross Clark

What’s really behind the net-zero zealotry of big businesses?

Boris Johnson’s biggest challenge at COP26 doesn’t lie in avoiding a finger-wagging from Greta Thunberg, who won’t be going. Neither will it be in preventing the party being spoiled by Insulate Britain holding up the limousines of the great and good. Nor will Johnson have to struggle too hard to persuade his fellow world leaders to sign some kind of declaration strong enough to be spun as a triumph but anodyne enough to allow China, Russia and others to ignore it.

No, the PM’s biggest challenge lies in fending off the demands of big businesses, who have latched themselves to the cause of net zero with great gusto, aware of its value to their brands. You can’t have missed McDonald’s lorries, now emblazoned with the boast that the company recycles all its cooking oil for biodiesel. There is Nestlé, which recently tried to burnish its green credentials by launching a vegan ‘shrimp’ made from seaweed, peas and elephant yam. Such greenwashing has been going on for years, but has seen a huge leap in the run-up to COP26. Every day sees another corporation announce another zero-carbon target — such as Amazon, Ikea and Unilever joining forces to commit themselves to using zero emission ships to transport their goods from 2040.

Big business has got its hooks firmly into COP26, offering sponsorship in return for the chance to chirp about its green credentials. We have become used to sports tournaments having an ‘official beer’ and the like, but is it really appropriate for a United Nations conference, held to discuss an issue of great importance to the world, to have 11 ‘principal partners’ — companies which have been given the chance to exploit the occasion to advertise their services? They include Unilever, SSE, Scottish Power, Sky, Microsoft, Sainsbury’s and GSK, which informs us, in the bumf it has been allowed to post on the COP26 website, that it wants to ‘support healthcare systems transition to net zero’.

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