Persefoni Expert Publications
What are Science-Based Targets (SBTi)?
Learn what science-based targets (SBTi) are, why they're important, and how you can set and track them.
Published May 5, 2022
A growing number of organizations have made pledges to reach net zero emissions, carbon neutral by 2050, and other greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) was established to ensure companies are taking the appropriate steps to meet their pledges, by delivering resources and assistance, and ensuring their target is in alignment with current climate science.
The SBTi was developed as a collaborative initiative between CDP, the World Wild Fund for Nature, the World Resources Institute, and the United Nations Global Compact as a call to action and to guide companies in reducing their GHG emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
It was created in 2015 to address the challenge of limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and staving off the worst effects of climate change. The SBTi aims to show the private sector how to take climate action and build science-based targets, which exploit the co-benefits of transitioning to a decarbonized world.
For a science-based target to be recognized by the SBTi companies must adhere to their criteria and recommendations. At a high level, these include near-term goals, including Scope 1, 2, and 3 in the reduction strategy, sector-specific targets, and annual disclosure of emissions and target progress
Importance of Science-Based Targets
622 of the world's 2000 largest companies have set net zero targets. The difficult part is building the strategy and taking the necessary actions to reach them. Recent research from As You Sow, showed that only three of the 55 companies they ranked on their road to emissions received A-grades.
That is where the SBTi comes in. They could be seen as an anti-greenwashing group, holding companies that have net zero pledges accountable on their progress toward that goal.
The SBTi has not been without controversy, however. A recent study from New Climate Institute on 25 companies certified by the SBTi found that not all of their emissions were included in their net zero pledges and that their actions do not meet their ambitions. The damning report revealed that some companies were using creative accounting to get around their emissions targets, and some of the brands with the highest scores from SBTi, had net zero plans of “very low integrity.”
Controversy withstanding the SBTi is and will be critical in ensuring companies have the tools, strategies, and capabilities to meet net zero goals. Furthermore, the SBTi claims the issues that led to them certifying companies with “low integrity,” were rectified with the 2021 release of the Net Zero Standard.
Each sector has vastly different sources of emissions, therefore their means of decarbonization differ greatly. To compensate for these differences, the SBTi has released sector specific guidance bespoke to the needs and capacity for each sector. Currently, over 50 sectors have set science-based targets, and apart from oil and gas, each has the ability to set them.
Currently there are sector-specific criteria for aviation, finance, apparel and footwear, power generation, and information and communication technologies. However, several others are under development or in a scoping stage.
SBTi Use Cases
Thus far over 2,000 companies have signed up to the science-based target initiative across multiple sectors. These companies range from small to medium businesses, large multinational corporations, and financial institutions.
For small to medium-sized enterprises (under 500 employees) there is a simplified version for SBTi approval. This streamlined approach to setting targets is due to the fact that smaller companies do not have the capacity or skills to embark on the journey at full scale.
One example of an SBTi use case is with Colgate-Palmolive; to improve the 2.0°C target set in 2017 to a 1.5°C target for 2020. The approved SBTi measures toward their 1.5°C include:
Reducing 30% of scope 1 and 2 emissions in global operations by 2025 and 50% by 2030, from a 2018 base year.
Sourcing 100% renewable electricity for global operations by 2030.
Reducing 30% of scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services by 2025, from a 2018 base year.
Reducing 20% of indirect use phase emissions associated with the consumer use of products by 2025, from a 2016 base year.
This is just one example of the 2,960 companies working with the SBTi to set and achieve science-based net-zero targets.
How Does Software Help With SBTi?
To ensure sound guidance is provided to companies to build their decarbonization strategies, accurate measurements of how much emissions they have and where they come from is needed. The collection and calculation of emissions data is a complicated process, involving a huge swathe of data points. The recent development of carbon accounting software such as Climate Management and Accounting Platforms (CMAP), have allowed companies to perform accurate carbon accounting at a fraction of the cost and time of other methods.
CMAPs have codified the SBTi method for measuring temperature targets and can automatically compute a company's adherence to a 1.5°C or 2.0°C through climate trajectory modeling.
The growing number of companies that are now turning to science-based targets to meet their net zero ambitions is indicative of a global decarbonization trend. SBTi-approved targets allow companies to not only reduce their carbon footprint, but also minimize their physical and transitional climate risks, increase competitiveness, and improve stakeholder relations.
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