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Our Insights 16 Oct 2019

Going Beyond Science-Based Targets

By Erika Petroy

© Karla Car on Unsplash

As the impacts of climate change rise, companies are under increasing pressure from their stakeholders to address their own contributions to global warming. Though governments and international bodies continue to play a key (though often lagging) role in developing policy structures and frameworks for limiting global GHG increases, the private sector has taken on the mantle of innovation and ambition to curb emissions. The key drivers of change come in the form of corporate goals and targets aligned with the science and context of the issue in mind.

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has been at the forefront of driving ambitious private sector GHG reduction goals. SBTi recently updated requirements to align with more aggressive 1.5° C warming scenarios released by the IPCC; and nearly 200 companies have approved SBTs, and with another 350 setting targets.

But companies are starting to go beyond the SBTi requirements, with “net zero” or even “net positive” ambitions. BT Group has pledged to become a net-zero-GHG business by 2045. It plans on both reducing its own emissions 87%, and supporting projects that sequester the same amount of GHG emissions it still produces. IKEA Group is committing to becoming “climate positive” (reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than the IKEA value chain emits) by 2030. It is reducing emissions along its value chain, developing and improving GHG capture and storage practices to reach net zero, and addressing the GHG footprint beyond IKEA operations through supporting its suppliers’ renewable energy goals and its customers’ energy saving practices. Having a Science-Based Target is now seemingly just the first step in corporate targets around climate change.

As corporations target larger ambitions, they are developing resources and building collaborations to make the achievement of those goals easier. HPE, in requiring 80% of its manufacturing suppliers to set SBT in their own operations by 2025, is providing its suppliers a suite of tools and resources to help them build capacity to drive down emissions. New alliances, such as the recent collaboration of GM, Google, Facebook, Walmart and 300 additional companies to form a Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, and others like RE100, provide a forum to bring together and help companies buy clean energy at scale.

As corporations target larger ambitions, they are developing resources and building collaborations to make the achievement of those goals easier.

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The concept of planetary boundaries is increasingly being taken up by companies to help frame targets in areas beyond GHG emissions. Robust research has laid out the global climate scenarios companies use to develop GHG emissions reductions targets. In other resource areas, though, the boundaries are much more nuanced and local. The private sector, in partnership with NGOs and academia, is developing tools and metrics to both measure company impact in these resource areas and set relevant targets.

On the leading edge of biodiversity commitments are companies, such as Teck, who are working towards “net positive” biodiversity goals, much like “net positive” carbon. Teck uses a growing approach called “biodiversity net gain” to reach those goals. Once Teck predicts impact; it takes seven ordered steps to reach net gain: 1) avoid 2) minimise 3) restore 4) rehabilitation/restoration 5) compensation 6) offset 7) additional conservation actions.

Alpro, a Belgian company that sells plant-based products, is working to develop metrics to first measure that predicted impact in the context of planetary boundaries. It recently published a pilot to assess planetary boundaries for water, land, nutrients and biodiversity in its soy and almond value chains. The paper developed methodologies to measure the company’s footprint through focusing on the specific context of the ecosystems that the company operates in, and then crafting a science-based target. In one example, they focused on a freshwater basin that Alpro operates in. Noting that the river system is always under strain in the summer months, and climate change will exacerbate the issue through altered rainfall patterns, Alpro was able to craft more specific water use targets for farms in its value chain.

Setting meaningful targets based on an array of planetary boundaries, not just GHG emissions, is the next step companies are taking in their sustainability journeys. In setting these targets that begin with science, they decrease their environmental footprint in meaningful ways, and build resilience within their value chain.

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