Science Based Targets explained

Mark Carlin

Mark Carlin

After the hottest ever start to June, the need for every individual, business, or organisation to find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is becoming even more apparent. If the commitments contained within the Paris Agreement are to be achieved, we need global GHG emissions to be reduced by 45% (from 2010 level) by 2030 at the latest. Achieving absolute, verifiable reductions on this scale requires both systemic change and a tangible plan. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) provides a clearly defined pathway for delivering on emissions reduction commitments.

What are science-based targets?

Targets are considered ‘science-based’ if they are in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement: limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Who should be setting science-based targets?

The SBTi encourages companies from all sectors and sizes to commit to setting a science-based target. They are especially keen to see those companies in the highest-emitting sectors set science-based targets given the crucial role they will play in the transition to a zero-carbon economy. 

The SBTi does not currently assess targets for cities, local governments, public sector institutions, educational institutions, or non-profit organisations.

How to set a science-based target

Setting a science-based target is a five-step process:

  • Commit: submit a letter establishing your intent to set a science-based target
  • Develop: work on an emissions reduction target in line with the SBTi’s criteria
  • Submit: present your target to the SBTi for official validation
  • Communicate: announce your target and inform your stakeholders
  • Disclose: report company-wide emissions and track target progress annually

As of May 2023, over 5400 companies have joined the SBTi, submitting their commitment letter, with nearly 3000 having their targets approved.

The SBTi has developed a streamlined approach for SMEs which involves setting near-term and net zero targets. The near-term target must be set before the net zero target may be submitted. To qualify as an SME, a business must be a non-subsidiary, independent company with fewer than 500 employees. 

Near-term science-based targets for SMEs are absolute scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions reduction targets that should be achieved by 2030, from a predefined base year. Near-term targets must cover a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years from the date the target is submitted to the SBTi for official validation. 

Net zero targets for SMEs include: 

  • Long-term science-based targets which are absolute scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions reduction targets that should be met by 2050 at the latest, from a predefined base year. Long-term (net zero) targets shall have a target year no later than 2050. 
  • A commitment to neutralise any unabated emissions.

Why set science-based targets?

The benefits of setting science-based targets extend beyond having a clearly defined pathway for reducing your company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, helping mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Transitioning away from fossil fuels and the potential introduction of ever-increasing carbon taxes should improve business competitiveness and provide an opportunity for future-proofed business growth.

If you would like Grain to help you through the five-step process of setting a science-based target, or any other sustainability work, please get in touch.

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