Embracing a Sustainable Future: Understanding Science-Based Targets and Their Crucial Role in Addressing Climate Change

In the urgent quest to combat climate change, science-based targets have emerged as a beacon of hope, offering companies a meticulously outlined roadmap to curtail greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the imperative goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. These targets not only delineate the exact magnitude of emissions reductions required but also prescribe the pace at which businesses must act to harmonize with the ambitious objectives set forth by the Paris Agreement. By embodying a blend of scientific rigor and environmental stewardship, science-based targets signify a transformative approach towards sustainability, urging organizations to embrace responsible practices that resonate with the broader imperative of safeguarding our planet for future generations.

Understanding Science-Based Targets for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A greenhouse gas emissions target is considered science-based if it aligns with the scale of reductions needed to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. These targets, rooted in the concept of a global greenhouse gas budget, account for historical greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate to estimate the allowable future emissions that still maintain a good chance of limiting global warming.

Setting science-based targets involves understanding the global greenhouse gas or carbon budget and mapping reduction pathways across various sources of emissions, including economic, societal, and natural contributors. This approach allows for fair and transparent goal-setting at both global and organizational levels. Long-term targets often extend to 2050 or 2100, but shorter-term milestones, such as those for 2025 or 2030, can increase urgency and reduce uncertainties, making climate action a priority for management and boards today.

Developing these targets requires careful consideration of numerous factors, including future company growth, market dynamics, technological advancements, and potential disruptive events. Companies must decide whether those that have already made strides in reducing emissions should be subject to the same reduction levels as those just beginning their efforts.

Several methodologies exist to aid in setting science-based targets. The most detailed and commonly used is the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA), introduced by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in 2015. The SDA allows companies to set targets based on their sector’s decarbonization trajectory, using scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). These scenarios inform national and international climate policies and account for potential efficiency improvements and technological advancements within sectors.

While the SDA is currently applicable to certain sectors, alternative approaches are available and continually being refined to meet diverse business needs. Ultimately, science-based targets integrate rigorous scientific consensus with transparent reduction allocation, enabling businesses to credibly contribute to the global effort of the Paris Agreement. By setting these targets, companies commit to measurable and impactful greenhouse gas reductions, demonstrating environmental stewardship and accountability in addressing climate change.

Citations: (Defining Science- Based Targets, 2021), (What Exactly is a Science- Based Target?, 2018)

Science-Based Targets and Biodiversity Protection

Science-based targets (SBTs) for biodiversity protection are emerging as a critical component of corporate sustainability strategies. Traditionally, science-based targets have focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. However, there is a growing recognition that biodiversity loss poses an equally urgent threat to the planet. Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential for ecosystem stability, human well-being, and economic sustainability. Integrating biodiversity protection into science-based targets helps companies address this interconnected challenge, ensuring that their operations and supply chains contribute to the preservation and restoration of natural ecosystems.

The development of science-based targets for biodiversity protection involves assessing a company’s impact on ecosystems and setting measurable goals to mitigate these effects. This process requires a thorough understanding of how business activities, such as land use, resource extraction, and pollution, affect biodiversity. By leveraging scientific data and methodologies, companies can establish targets that align with global biodiversity goals, such as those outlined in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These targets are designed to promote actions that halt biodiversity loss, support the recovery of endangered species, and maintain the integrity of ecosystems.

One of the key challenges in setting science-based targets for biodiversity is the complexity and variability of ecosystems. Unlike greenhouse gas emissions, which can be measured and managed with relatively straightforward metrics, biodiversity encompasses a wide range of species and habitats, each with unique requirements and threats. To address this, initiatives like the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) are developing frameworks and tools to help companies quantify their biodiversity impacts and set robust targets. These frameworks consider factors such as habitat quality, species diversity, and ecosystem services, providing a comprehensive approach to biodiversity management.

The Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) has recently published the first formal framework designed to help companies set goals for preserving nature and biodiversity. This new framework builds on the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) started in 2015, which focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The SBTN’s guidance for nature expands this approach to include protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, recognizing that planetary health involves more than managing carbon dioxide levels. The framework offers recommendations for reducing water quantity usage and improving water quality, as well as guidelines for preventing the conversion of natural landscapes and promoting restoration.

Varsha Vijay, technical director at SBTN, emphasized that these nature-focused science-based targets complement climate science-based targets by encouraging corporate action beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The initial guidance is available to 17 pilot companies and has been released to the public this year. The full set of guidelines, including those for healthy oceans, is expected by 2025.

Erin Billman, executive director at SBTN, highlighted the importance of avoiding and minimizing environmental impacts and taking actions to regenerate and restore ecosystems. This effort aligns with global biodiversity commitments, such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework established at COP15, which aims to protect 30 percent of Earth’s land by 2030. Billman noted that SBTN’s work focuses on the remaining 70 percent of working lands to ensure they do not encroach on protected areas.

Implementing science-based targets for biodiversity protection offers numerous benefits for companies. It enhances corporate resilience by ensuring that businesses operate within the ecological limits of the planet, reducing risks associated with resource scarcity and regulatory changes. Furthermore, companies that commit to biodiversity targets can improve their reputation and stakeholder relations, as consumers, investors, and regulators increasingly prioritize environmental responsibility. By aligning their operations with scientific guidance, businesses can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the natural world while securing long-term sustainability.

In conclusion, the integration of biodiversity protection into science-based targets represents a significant advancement in corporate sustainability. By adopting these targets, companies can systematically reduce their environmental footprint and contribute to global efforts to preserve the planet’s biodiversity. This approach not only addresses the urgent need to halt biodiversity loss but also supports broader ecological and economic stability, ensuring a healthier and more resilient future for all.

Citations: (Science-Based Targets for Nature Come from Business, 2024), (Science-Based Targets for Nature are Here, 2023)

Understanding the Science- Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) plays a crucial role in enabling businesses to address the climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and building a resilient, zero-emissions economy. Formed through a collaboration between the World Resources Institute, CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the SBTi provides the necessary framework for companies and financial institutions to set and achieve science-based emissions reduction targets.

The SBTi’s mission is to drive ambitious climate action urgently, focusing on drastic reductions in GHG emissions to prevent severe climate change repercussions. It achieves this by developing standards, tools, and guidance that align corporate actions with the goals of the Paris Agreement. By the end of 2023, over 4,000 companies and financial institutions had committed to setting emissions reduction targets validated by the SBTi, which define how much and how quickly a business must reduce its emissions to meet the 1.5°C global warming limit and achieve net-zero status by 2050.

The initiative encompasses several key roles, including defining best practices in science-based target setting, promoting effective decarbonization strategies, and offering validation services to ensure targets align with scientific parameters. By mobilizing the private sector through initiatives like the Corporate Net-Zero Standard, the SBTi provides clarity on decarbonization pathways and guides companies towards impactful climate actions.

The SBTi’s evolution from a collaborative effort to an independent charity reflects its commitment to upholding standards and ensuring transparency. Operating on values of collaboration, respect, integrity, and accountability, the SBTi fosters a culture of shared learning and responsible environmental stewardship. Emphasizing the urgency to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the SBTi underscores the vital role businesses play in mitigating GHG emissions and building a resilient, zero-emissions economy. By aligning corporate actions with the latest climate science, the SBTi ensures that businesses are integral to the global effort to combat the climate crisis.

Citations: (WRI- Science- Based Targets Initiatives, n.d.) (FAQ on Science- Based Targets , n.d.)

Science-Based Targets and Corporate Leadership

Science-based targets (SBTs) have become a cornerstone for companies striving to align their operations with the latest climate science. These targets provide a clear, evidence-based pathway for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring that business activities contribute to the global effort to limit warming at 1.5°C. Numerous companies across various sectors have successfully implemented science-based targets, demonstrating that ambitious climate action is not only feasible but also beneficial for business sustainability and growth.

One of the standout examples is IKEA, the global home furnishing giant. IKEA has set ambitious SBTs to become climate positive by 2030, meaning they aim to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire IKEA value chain emits, while growing the business. This involves a wide array of initiatives, from transitioning to renewable energy in its operations to sourcing raw materials sustainably and innovating product design to improve energy efficiency. By setting and working towards these targets, IKEA not only reduces its environmental footprint but also drives innovation and efficiency across its supply chain, positioning itself as a leader in sustainable retail.

Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company, has also been a pioneer in adopting science-based targets. Unilever’s climate action plan includes reducing the emissions from its own operations to zero by 2030 and halving the full value chain emissions by 2030. These targets are part of a broader sustainability strategy that encompasses sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably and achieving net-zero emissions across the entire value chain by 2039. Through these efforts, Unilever has enhanced its resilience to climate risks, reduced costs through energy efficiency, and strengthened its brand reputation among consumers who increasingly value sustainability.

Another notable example is Microsoft, which has committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030. Microsoft’s approach includes reducing its emissions by more than half and removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits each year. Additionally, by 2050, Microsoft aims to remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. This ambitious goal is supported by substantial investments in carbon removal technologies and a comprehensive strategy that encompasses the entire value chain. Microsoft’s leadership in setting and achieving SBTs demonstrates the potential for technology companies to drive substantial climate action.

Danone, a multinational food-products corporation, has also integrated science-based targets into its business strategy. Danone’s goals include reducing absolute emissions across its entire value chain by 50% by 2030. The company focuses on sustainable agriculture practices, improving energy efficiency, and reducing food waste. Danone’s commitment to SBTs has helped enhance its operational efficiency, engage its supply chain partners in sustainability efforts, and build a stronger relationship with environmentally conscious consumers.

These companies exemplify the successful implementation of science-based targets, showcasing the tangible benefits of aligning business practices with climate science. By setting ambitious, evidence-based goals, these organizations not only contribute to global climate efforts but also drive innovation, improve efficiency, and enhance their market position. Their experiences underline that setting and achieving science-based targets is a powerful strategy for companies to ensure long-term sustainability and resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

Citations: (Nasdaq, 2020), (Danone Recognized Global Leader, 24), (Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030, 2020) (Ikea- Our Climate Agenda, n.d.) (Target Dashboard, n.d.)

The Future of Science-Based Targets

The future of science-based targets (SBTs) is set to play a crucial role in global climate action, pushing companies towards more sustainable and resilient business practices. As the urgency to tackle climate change grows, the adoption of SBTs is expected to rise significantly. This increase will be driven by growing regulatory pressures, investor expectations, and consumer demand for transparency and accountability in corporate environmental impact. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) will continue to refine and expand its frameworks, allowing more industries and sectors to set and achieve ambitious emissions reduction goals aligned with the latest climate science.

Technological advancements and innovations will be key to the future of SBTs. Companies will increasingly use emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to track and optimize their carbon footprints more precisely. These technologies will enable more accurate data collection and reporting, enhance supply chain transparency, and support the development of new, low-carbon products and processes. Additionally, advancements in carbon capture and storage, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technologies will give companies the tools they need to meet their science-based targets more effectively.

Collaboration and partnerships will be essential in the evolution of SBTs. As the climate crisis transcends borders and sectors, companies will need to work together with governments, non-profits, and other stakeholders to drive systemic change. The future will see more cross-sector initiatives and coalitions aimed at scaling climate solutions and fostering shared learning. Moreover, as more companies commit to SBTs, there will be a ripple effect, encouraging smaller businesses and suppliers to adopt similar goals. This collective action will not only help mitigate climate change but also create a more resilient and sustainable global economy. As the adoption of SBTs becomes more widespread, they will become a standard part of corporate strategy, fundamentally reshaping how businesses operate in the 21st century.

The Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) has recently expanded its scope by releasing the first version of nature targets, a significant step in uniting the world’s leading companies to stabilize the climate, preserve freshwater resources, regenerate land, secure healthy oceans, and support biodiversity. Martha Stevenson, Senior Director of Strategy and Research, emphasizes that businesses must act on both nature and climate, recognizing the interconnectedness of nature-related and climate-related risks.

These new nature targets align corporate ambition with action in critical landscapes, create incentive structures that integrate nature, people, and climate, and promote an integrated approach across freshwater, land, oceans, and biodiversity. This holistic strategy aims to fast-track win-win solutions and limit greenwashing, ensuring that efforts to address climate change also deliver tangible benefits for nature and local communities. The adoption of these targets will help keep nature intact, preserve ecosystems’ ability to absorb emissions, protect biodiversity, and provide benefits to people and communities dependent on these landscapes and seascapes.

As more businesses commit to science-based targets for both climate and nature, they will drive innovation and systemic change, fostering a more sustainable and resilient global economy. The widespread uptake of these integrated targets will guide the necessary actions to safeguard the future for both people and nature.

Citations: (Joachim Peter Tilsted a b, 2023) (Stevenson, 2023)

Conclusion

In conclusion, science-based targets represent a critical advancement in the corporate approach to sustainability and climate action. By aligning their emission reduction strategies with scientific consensus and global climate goals, businesses are better equipped to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This alignment not only helps to limit global warming to 1.5°C but also positions companies as responsible stewards of the environment, fostering innovation, efficiency, and resilience within their operations.

Furthermore, the integration of biodiversity protection into science-based targets underscores the interconnectedness of ecological health and climate stability. As companies adopt these comprehensive targets, they contribute to halting biodiversity loss, preserving natural ecosystems, and promoting sustainable resource use. This holistic approach ensures that corporate actions yield benefits for both the environment and society, enhancing long-term sustainability and mitigating risks associated with resource depletion and regulatory changes. The collective commitment to these science-based targets heralds a transformative shift towards a more resilient and environmentally responsible global economy.

By Jarett Emert