An assessment of climate action by high-carbon global corporations

Abstract

Corporations are an important source of GHG emissions1,2,3 and important actors in mitigating climate change4. This paper presents and analyses a database of corporate climate action that provides an up-to-date assessment of companies’ carbon management practices, as well as systematically benchmarking companies’ emissions pathways against international targets. Our analysis covers 138 companies in 7 high-emitting sectors, accounting for 21% of emissions from all listed companies globally5. While most companies have implemented basic carbon management practices, we find that less than half of them have implemented more strategic practices. Further analysis indicates companies separate into those that hardly undertake any carbon management practices and those that undertake most. Perhaps surprisingly, most corporate emissions targets in our sample are aligned with the Paris Agreement goals, although most companies are yet to set quantified targets. Companies that have implemented more carbon management practices today are more likely to have set 2 °C-aligned targets. Carbon management and emissions performance are associated most strongly with where companies are headquartered and their size.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Share of companies implementing each management practice.
Fig. 2: Distribution of the count of management practices implemented by companies.
Fig. 3: Share of companies with an emissions intensity aligned with (that is below) international climate goals.

Data availability

The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available in the paper and its supplementary information files.

References

  1. 1.

    Covington, H., Thornton, J. & Hepburn, C. J. Shareholders must vote for climate-change mitigation. Nature 530, 156 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Heede, R. Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854-2010. Climatic Change 122, 229–241 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Moorhead, J. & Nixon, T. Global 500 Greenhouse Gases Performance 2010–2013: 2014 Report on Trends (Thomson Reuters, 2014).

  4. 4.

    Persson, Å. & Rockström, J. Business leaders. Nat. Clim. Change. 1, 426–427 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Trucost EBoard Screening Tool (Trucost, acessed 15 November 2017); https://www.trucost.com/capital-markets/eboard-data-analytics/

  6. 6.

    Krabbe, O. et al. Aligning corporate greenhouse-gas emissions targets with climate goals. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 1057–1060 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Rogelj, J. et al. Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C. Nature 534, 631–639 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Cadez, S. & Guilding, C. Examining distinct carbon cost structures and climate change abatement strategies in CO2 polluting firms. Account. Audit. Account. J. 30, 1041–1064 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Cho, C. H. & Patten, D. M. The role of environmental disclosures as tools of legitimacy: a research note. Account. Organ. Soc. 32, 639–647 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Freedman, M. & Jaggi, B. in Sustainability, Environmental Performance and Disclosures (eds. Freedman, M. & Jaggi, B.) 129–160 (Advances in Environmental Accounting & Management Vol. 4, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, 2009).

  11. 11.

    Hughes, S. B., Anderson, A. & Golden, S. Corporate environmental disclosures: are they useful in determining environmental performance?. J. Account. Public Policy 20, 217–240 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Luo, L. & Tang, Q. Does voluntary carbon disclosure reflect underlying carbon performance? J. Contemp. Account. Econ. 10, 191–205 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Doda, B., Gennaioli, C., Gouldson, A., Grover, D. & Sullivan, R. Are corporate carbon management practices reducing corporate carbon emissions? Corp. Soc. Responsib. Environ. Manag. 23, 257–270 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Qian, W. & Schaltegger, S. Revisiting carbon disclosure and performance: legitimacy and management views. Br. Account. Rev. 49, 365–379 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Beder, S. Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism (Chelsea Green Publishing, New York, 1997).

  16. 16.

    Laufer, W. S. Social accountability and corporate greenwashing. J. Bus. Ethics 43, 253–261 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Delmas, M. A. & Burbano, V. C. The drivers of greenwashing. Calif. Manage. Rev. 54, 64–87 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Nasiritousi, N. Fossil fuel emitters and Climate Change: unpacking the governance activities of large oil and gas companies. Environ. Polit. 26, 621–647 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Randers, J. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of value added (‘GEVA’): a corporate guide to voluntary climate action. Energy Policy 48, 46–55 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Kondrasuk, J. N. Studies in MBO effectiveness. Academy of management review. Acad. Manage. J. 6, 419–430 (1981).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Rodgers, R. & Hunter, J. E. Impact of management by objectives on organizational productivity. J. Appl. Psychol. 76, 322–336 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Rodgers, R. & Hunter, J. A foundation of good management practice in government: management by objectives. Public Adm. Rev. 52, 27–39 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Boyne, G. A. & Chen, A. A. Performance targets and public service improvement. J. Public Adm. Res. Theory 17, 455–477 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Bloom, N. & Van Reenen, J. Measuring and explaining management practices across firms and countries. Q. J. Econ. 122, 1351–1408 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Gouldson, A. & Sullivan, R. Long-term corporate climate change targets: what could they deliver? Environ. Sci. Policy 27, 1–10 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Aldy, J. et al. Economic tools to promote transparency and comparability in the Paris Agreement. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 1000–1004 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Adoption of the Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2015).

  28. 28.

    The Emissions Gap Report 2015: A UNEP Synthesis Report (UNEP, 2015).

  29. 29.

    Boyd, R., Cranston Turner, J. & Ward, B. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions: What are the Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2030? (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2015).

Download references

Acknowledgements

TPI is funded and supported by a group of asset owners and managers listed at www.transitionpathwayinitiative.org. S.D. would also like to acknowledge the support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK) and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The input of the TPI Steering and Technical Advisory Groups helped this research.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.S. designed the methodology for assessing carbon management practices, with input from C.G.-M. and S.D. The methodology for assessing emissions performance was designed by S.D., with input from C.G.-M., W.I., B.R. and R.S. The data were analysed by S.D., C.F., W.I., B.R. and R.S. The paper was drafted by S.D. and W.I. with input from C.F., C.G.-M., B.R. and R.S.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simon Dietz.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–28, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figure 1, Supplementary References

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dietz, S., Fruitiere, C., Garcia-Manas, C. et al. An assessment of climate action by high-carbon global corporations. Nature Clim Change 8, 1072–1075 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0343-2

Download citation

Further reading