skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


23 December 2021 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has published a business briefing for understanding corporates’ transitions to net zero based on a quantitative industry survey.

Download the report


Corporate sectors’ transitions to net zero require significant financing support from the banking industry, and the will of the banking industry to better engage with the real economy is also evident. However, findings from CISL’s Bank 2030 report suggest that the ability for finance to act as a lever of change into the green economy is constrained due to a lack of understanding of their clients’ transitions to net zero. Hence, commissioned by BNP Paribas, CISL conducted a quantitative survey to deepen the understanding of net zero transitions across five corporate sectors, namely, oil & gas (O&G), power generation, steel, cement, and aviation.

Four themes covered in the survey are:

  • Current state of corporate sectors’ transitions to net zero;
  • Challenges associated with formulating and adopting net zero transition plans;
  • Related financing needs of corporate sectors to move faster in their transitions; and potential enablers to overcome these challenges;
  • Sector-specific assessments on how climate-related risks – transition risks and physical risks – are being addressed through investments in mitigation and adaptation measures.

Key insights provided by the report include:

  • Net zero targets are starting to become a ‘new normal’ while this positive momentum still has a long way to go;
  • Translating net zero targets into actions is urgently needed -- progress so far of making capital investments in alternative low carbon businesses and technologies remains slow;
  • The lack of reliable and affordable alternative low carbon technologies is found to be the greatest single challenge faced by companies surveyed to transition to net zero;
  • Policy and regulation are widely viewed as the top transition risk driver, while the top physical risk driver depends more on a sector’s exposure and vulnerability;
  • The financing needs for the surveyed ‘hard to abate’ corporate sectors to achieve net zero are immense while most of the sectors surveyed note that it is difficult to obtain finance from external sources to support the net zero transition.

Dr Nina Seega, Research Director, Centre for Sustainable Finance, CISL said:

“Corporate sectors play a key role in the transition of the economy to net zero. Our industry survey on the net zero transitions in the five ‘hard to abate’ sectors is an important step to understanding the progress and challenges of corporates’ transitions at a sectoral scale. Findings of this report are instrumental for the banking industry to better engage with corporate sectors in their transitions to net zero emissions.”

Séverine Mateo, Head of the Low-Carbon transition Group, BNP Paribas, said:

“In the face of the urgently needed transition, this report – which harnesses the leading research expertise of the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership – provides insights into transition risk, challenges, industry pathways and delves into whether finance is a lever supporting transition across hard to abate sectors. BNP Paribas is fully engaged to support companies that are genuinely committed to transitioning to net-zero on what will inevitably be a long and sometimes challenging journey. There will be no easy path, especially for the sectors that we have included in this important report, and all will need a long-term banking partner to support and help accelerate their transition.”

Citing this report

University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2021). Understanding Corporates’ Transitions to Net Zero: Industry survey on net zero transition progress and challenges. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Published: December 2021

Authors and acknowledgements

The authors of this report were Dr Bojun Wang and Dr Nina Seega at the CISL Centre for Sustainable Finance.

The authors sincerely are thankful for the support of BNP Paribas, and Ursula Woodburn, Dr James MacPherson, Nick Villiers, Thomas Vergunst, Alice Spencer, and Annabel Ross at CISL in developing this report.


Copyright © 2021 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL or The University of Cambridge.