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State-sponsored greenwash 1.2 MB

Globally observed problems relating to net zero targets by the private sector, including definitions, timelines, credibility and transparency, are evident in Australia.

While scientists have been clear that emissions have to be reduced in an absolute sense, many corporations in Australia have abandoned this idea, relying instead on creative accounting and promises of future removals by unproven technology to justify ongoing emissions. It seems that in the private sector everyone assumes they can be the ‘net’, but no one is prepared to be the ‘zero’.

In recognition of rising emissions amid a proliferation of climate claims, civil society is increasingly calling out greenwashing by industry. Australian regulators have also committed to addressing misleading climate claims, and other efforts to address greenwashing— including legal action by NGOs—are also being made.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced that it will focus on greenwashing in its 2022-23 enforcement and compliance policy update, defining greenwashing as falsely promoting environmental or green credentials to capitalise on these consumer preferences, including misleading claims about carbon neutrality.

The Australian Government doesn’t just turn a blind eye to dubious net zero commitments by corporations, it also actively endorses them through its policies and programs. The authors refer to this practice as ‘state-sponsored greenwash’.

The reasons for Australia’s state-sponsored greenwash are not complicated. The system as it is functioning serves the interests of both the private sector and governments at state and federal levels. Big emitters make net zero pledges to protect their social licence to operate and to prolong the viability of their existing business models. This suits Australian governments, which are keen to delay the political pain and economic shifts that will be inevitable with genuine decarbonisation. When impossible claims are made by Australia’s carbon intensive industries, such as being a ‘net zero’ gas company or selling ‘carbon neutral’ petrol, both detailed in this report, the federal government sees an opportunity to delay the difficulties of phasing out internal combustion engines or fossil fuel exports.

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