Breaking down science-based targets and how they can help set sustainability goals

Ever since the publication of IPCC’s 2018 special report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC , there should be little doubt that achieving a net-zero global economy by 2030 is essential to limit global warming to the 1.5 or 2 ºC targets of the Paris Accord. This requires immediate,  substantial emission reductions and commitments by everyone — individuals, companies, organisations, governments. But how to translate the global target of net-zero emissions in ten years to the level of a single organisation? This is where science-based targets come in, and specifically, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the We Mean Business Coalition.

So what exactly are science-based targets (SBT)?

The Science Based Targets initiative defines science-based targets as strategies that ‘’provide companies with a clearly defined pathway to future-proof growth by specifying how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions’’. Science Based Targets differ from traditional emission target-setting in that they are grounded in the latest climate science and are developed in an inclusive, transparent, and multi-stakeholder process that cuts across major corporate sectors (agriculture, energy, financial, etc). While sounding technical and complex, it’s a potential game-changer towards convergence of standards and pathways to achieving net-zero emission around the world.

What are the basic principles of SBT?

The SBTi defines three guiding principles for corporates to achieve net-zero targets while aligning with global climate goals.

  1. Reaching net-zero emissions for a company involves achieving a state in which its value chain results in no net accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in no net-impact from other greenhouse gas emissions;
  2. In accordance with the best available science, the Paris Agreement and the global Sustainable Development Goals, companies should transition towards net-zero in line with mitigation pathways that are consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 ºC with no or limited overshoot;
  3. The mitigation strategy followed by the company should inform long-term strategies and investments that mitigate exposure to climate-related transition risks, ensuring that the business model of the company will continue to be viable in a net-zero economy.

How can SBT help companies define sustainability targets?

Science-based targets help companies clarify how they will do their bit in achieving the overall global goal of net-zero emissions. As such, science-based targets can be included to complement or strengthen existing corporate sustainability commitments, be it the company’s own programmes, one of the many carbon accounting standards or commitments under GRI, CDP and UN Global Compact.

Cool Farm Alliance members leading the way

The Cool Farm Tool has helped farmers and companies reduce greenhouse gas emission for nearly a decade now, helping both set targets and identify mitigation potentials. So it may not surprise that Cool Farm Alliance’s members are among the first companies worldwide that embrace science-based targets: ABInBev, Barry Callebaut, Bayer, Bel, Cargill, Danone, Kellogg’s, Mars, Nestlé, Olam, PepsiCo, Walmart, Syngenta, Tesco and Unilever have already published targets, while companies like McCain and Heineken are working on theirs.

If you are interested in learning how to set your science-based targets, explore the SBTi website or join Cool Farm Alliance member Anthesis on Sept 29th for a webinar that explores the use of carbon credits as an evidence-based credit scheme for agriculture.

Photos by: Markus Spiske from Pexels // D Cannon from Pixabay