- Only 38% of organizations have a net-zero transition plan in place.
- 40% of business leaders believe their organization is at risk of setting objectives they are unable to meet.
- 70% believe that huge upfront investment is a barrier to net-zero.
- 58% say their organization hasn't allocated nearly enough budget to make transition a success.

Rising temperatures and extreme weather events are contributing to the sense of urgency around climate change and reinforcing the need for real progress on commitments such as achieving net-zero emissions. At the UN's 27th Climate Change conference (COP27), UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for all hands on deck for faster and bolder climate action. However, many organizations are struggling to understand how to turn sustainability commitments into reality, according to a new Baker McKenzie survey of global sustainability leaders and general counsel. 

The Race to Net-Zero: Is the global business community on course to beat the clock?
, surveyed 1,000 sustainability leaders and general counsel across nine global markets (UK, Germany, France, USA, Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Brazil) and six industries (Consumer Goods & Retail, Energy, Mining and Infrastructure, Financial Institutions, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Industrials, Manufacturing & Transportation and Technology, Media & Telecoms).

Net nowhere: Identifying the barriers to net-zero

Supply chain transparency
Any organization seeking to make progress towards net-zero must do so in tandem with its suppliers.

The research reveals that too many companies are still attempting to go it alone – perhaps feeling there is no alternative, when faced with the complexity of understanding their extended value chain.

41% say their organization has no view of their Scope 3 emissions and no plan in place to tackle them. And only 40% of organizations have started auditing their suppliers. This opacity renders net-zero an unviable prospect.

Threat of litigation and greenwashing
Facing pressure from all sides, organizations are eager to share their net-zero ambition with their key stakeholders.  

However, business leaders fear that certain promises may be overzealous. According to the research, 40% of those surveyed believe their organization is at risk of setting objectives they are unable to meet. The threat of greenwashing is a barrier to advancement in 45% of organizations we surveyed. At the same time, organizations face the risk of litigation for failing to take action to reduce their emissions.

The funding gap
Combatting the climate crisis and implementing the transition to net-zero will require unprecedented financial investment.

70% of business leaders believe that huge upfront investment is a barrier to their organization’s net-zero transition. Moreover, 58% say their organization has not allocated nearly enough budget to make the transition a success.

Despite this, 69% believe that transitioning to net-zero offers an opportunity to increase growth in the long-term, and when viewed through that prism, net-zero spending should be seen as an investment in the future.

Blind spots in the C-suite
According to our research, 49% of respondents are worried their leaders have overpromised regarding the speed and scale of their transition. 

Good intentions from leadership must be backed by robust steps across all business operations. Progress on net-zero cannot be made in silos. Our survey found that only 49% of net-zero transition plans have been rolled out across the entire organization and 48% of sustainability leaders believe there is a gap between their corporate ESG strategy and the aspirations expressed by leadership and the reality on the ground.

Breaking the deadlock: Six solutions for driving real progress on the path to net-zero

Competitor collaboration
Industry collaboration — along the supply chain and between competitors — is an important way to advance net-zero progress. 73% of business leaders are willing to collaborate with competitors on net-zero transition. However, this comes with its own set of challenges and these initiatives need to be approached carefully from their very inception to ensure they comply with competition law.

Improvements in target setting
Science-based targets (SBT) provide a framework to develop a measured, measurable pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and 45% of organizations say they are committed to achieving SBT. However, only 18% have had their SBT validated and defined a clear path to deliver them.

Industry-wide benchmarking
Benchmarking facilitates meaningful data comparison across sectors, providing useful insight for businesses and investors. 35% of respondents recognize these benefits and have a strong benchmarking model in place.

Global harmonization and new regulation
The private sector’s desire for clear guidance and a level playing field is apparent: 50% of respondents hope that new global reporting standards will come into force in the next five to ten years.

Breaking down internal silos
To make meaningful progress towards net-zero, organizations need an integrated, holistic strategy that breaks down internal siloes and builds connections across departments. General counsel can play a pivotal role in doing so, from setting strategy and developing governance structures, to assisting with commercial decision making, financing and providing operational support.

Harnessing leaders’ appetite for transformation
72% of business leaders now believe that a robust sustainability strategy can be a powerful differentiator and they are seeking to define — and execute — ambitious plans. 69% of business leaders say that transitioning to net-zero offers an opportunity to increase growth in the long term.

Alyssa Auberger, Chief Sustainability Officer at Baker McKenzie commented, "The path to reaching net-zero by 2050 may be fraught, but the reward is considerable for those taking action — while the consequences of inaction are unthinkable. With more companies making sustainability a core component of their business strategy, there is hope for the future. The world is watching: now is the time to turn aspiration into action."

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