Climate crisis spawns high tide of greenwashing

24 January, 2020 12:00 AM printer

PARIS: From big tech to Big Oil, global corporations in all sectors are churning out climate action plans to reduce carbon footprints and adapt to tomorrow’s low-carbon economy, reports AFP.   

At Davos’ annual conclave of the rich and powerful, “it is all that anyone is talking about,” Alain Roumilhac, CEO of ManPowerGroup France, told AFP Wednesday.

But many of these seemingly ambitious pledges are more greenwashing than green, experts caution.     

Indeed, the tsunami of eco-initiatives sparked by a rising tide of climate anxiety range, for the most part, from doubtful to deceptive, they say.

One planet-saving idea with serious traction among titans of industry — including major fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP and ENI — is planting trees, which absorb and store CO2 as they grow. “We are facing a planetary climate crisis and trees are one of the most effective ways to sequester carbon,” Marc Benioff, founder and chairman of cloud computing powerhouse Salesforce, said in the Swiss resort.

Even notorious climate sceptic Donald Trump, also in Davos, backed a “trillion trees” reforestation scheme hailed by global media as a silver-bullet solution when unveiled last year by Swiss researchers.

The plan calls for covering nearly a billion hectares — an area larger than the continental United States — with foliage. Big business in general has jumped on the tree-planting bandwagon, with many signing up to “offset” schemes that allow them to continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

But the Swiss study, published in Science, came in for a severe drubbing from peers, with four top experts — writing in the same journal — dismissing it as “incorrect scientifically and dangerously misleading”.

“Heroic reforestation can help, but it is time stop suggesting there is a ‘nature-based solution’ to ongoing fossil fuel use,” Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at the University of Oxford, told AFP at the time.

The study’s long list of flaws, according to Allen and dozens of other scientists, includes overestimating the CO2-absorbing capacity of the trees, overlooking the possibility that their dark canopy will absorb the Sun’s radiation, and the fact that much of the land earmarked will be needed to feed 10 billion people in 2050.

The authors of the study defended their findings, but described it as a thought experiment more than an action plan.

“Sometimes these climate policies are decent, but often — and especially when it comes to the financial sector — they are incremental or voluntary moves,” said Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan, who is participating in several Davos events this week.