COP26: UK financial firms to be forced to publish net zero plans from 2023 to halt 'greenwashing'

Rishi Sunak announced plans to stamp out greenwashing and he's adamant the world's wealth will be redirected to help combat the climate crisis, ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

Financial institutions and listed companies will be forced to publish their plans on how they will go green as part of sweeping reforms the chancellor hopes will prevent firms boosting about eco-credentials without backing them up with action.

Speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak outlined plans to make the UK a net zero financial centre and halt so-called greenwashing.

Around 40% of global financial assets have aligned themselves to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, Mr Sunak said.

The plans, drawn up by a task force with members from universities, civil society groups, industry and regulators, will need to include high-level targets to reduce greenhouse emissions, the steps companies plan to take to get there and milestones ahead of 2050.

As finance ministers meet in Glasgow, Mr Sunak hopes the plans will be a "gold standard" in stopping companies greenwashing. Companies will be expected to start publishing their transition plans in 2023.

But the government will leave it up to the market to determine if transition plans put forward by firms are adequate or credible.

Greenpeace said the plan was a marketing slogan which left "plenty of wriggle room for financial institutions to continue with business as usual, rather than ‘rewiring’ the system as the chancellor claims".

It added: "The chancellor is once again falling short of what the climate emergency requires."

It comes as Boris Johnson said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for a deal at crucial international talks to curb global warming.

On the second day of the summit on Tuesday, the prime minister welcomed a series of announcements by the assembled leaders on deforestation and emissions.

But he stressed there was still a long way to go if they were to get an agreement that would keep alive the prospect set out in the Paris Agreement of restricting world temperature rises to 1.5C.

Ahead of the summit, Mr Johnson suggested humanity was 5-1 down at half-time in the battle against climate change.

But speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, he said: “We’ve pulled back a goal, or perhaps even two, and I think we are going to be able to take this thing to extra-time, because there’s no doubt that some progress has been made.”

He added while the “doomsday clock is still ticking”, they now had a bomb disposal team on site and “they’re starting to snip the wires – I hope some of the right wires”.

Chancellor Sunak, mirroring the PM's optimism, said money had now been set out to achieve the goal of limiting the Earth's warming to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average temperature.

"Six years ago Paris set the ambition. Today in Glasgow we're providing the investment we need to deliver that ambition," he said, as he pointed to "over 130 trillion dollars of private capital waiting to be deployed".

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Earlier, the prime minister acknowledged the issue of climate finance had yet to be resolved – despite a 10 billion dollar (£7.3 billion) commitment from Japan over five years.

Mr Johnson said the richer nations were still behind on a commitment first made at Paris in 2015 to transfer 100 billion dollars (£73 billion) a year to developing countries to support sustainable development and mitigate the inevitable effects of global warming.

“What I’ve been asking for, as you know, is action on coal, cars, cash and trees, and after just a couple of days we can certainly begin to tick three of those boxes,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Johnson was returning to London after the end of the two-day leaders’ event which opened the summit, but he made it clear he would continue to be engaged.

In a message to the remaining teams who will get down to the task of detailed negotiations, he said: “The eyes of the world are on you – the eyes of the British Government and all the other governments that care about this – and we have got your numbers.”