Frequently asked questions about science based targets

Science-based targets (SBTs) are ambitious emissions reductions targets that are aligned to scientific consensus on limiting global warming to relative safe levels. These targets are a vital step on the journey to Net Zero, which will require rapid decarbonisation. During our recent SBT webinar , we received many questions about setting SBTs and how to make ...

Lucy Haines

22 Jul 2020 7 mins read time

Science-based targets (SBTs) are ambitious emissions reductions targets that are aligned to scientific consensus on limiting global warming to relative safe levels. These targets are a vital step on the journey to Net Zero, which will require rapid decarbonisation.

During our recent SBT webinar , we received many questions about setting SBTs and how to make such an ambition a successful one. This post aims to set out and answer your most frequently asked questions about science based targets.

Is a science-based target a feasible target to set?

The following questions attend to some of the perceived blockers to setting an SBT and how to overcome them.

  • How can we set an SBT if our company is projected to keep growing (potentially rapidly)?

Scope 1, 2 and 3 targets must meet SBTi validation criteria and target setting methods regardless of company growth. When assessing the impact of growth on the emissions trajectory, it is worth conducting a deep dive into emissions figures and financial performance to decouple them and understand how interconnected these two things really are. You can then start to understand how much of an impact growth will actually have on emissions.

We would then recommend identifying the emissions hotspots related to growth so initiatives can be put in place to minimize the effect of growth on emissions. For example, perhaps you are expecting to open a new facility that will consume more energy. In which case, focusing on renewable energy to decarbonize your energy use will be an important initiative to focus on and this action can be rolled out across all of your facilities.

  • How could a sector with currently no SBTi guidelines set a target?

Any sector (with exception of the financial sector and the oil and gas sector) is able to set an SBT under current SBTi criteria. The absolute contraction method is applicable to all sectors, with the only exception being the power generation sector.

  • Even if a target is set using SBTi methodology, you still need to obtain validation. How do I ensure that I can successfully get my target validated?

For targets to be accepted by the SBTi, they need to be aligned to the SBTi criteria. Each SBTi criteria must be met for a target to be approved. To ensure a target submission will be accepted, a gap analysis against these criteria and your target submission is a good idea. Consider gaining help from an external expert if you have not already.

Common areas of discrepancy are boundary (e.g. exclusions), ambition (e.g. not set using latest methods), and Scope 3 (e.g. incomplete screening, insufficient coverage of targets). Therefore, ensure that these areas have been given adequate focus.

  • Is there a minimum company size for the SBT approach? Is there a different approach available for small to medium enterprises?

There is now a new SME stream-lined target setting route for organisations with less than 500 employees (and not in the financial or oil and gas sector).

Companies sign a target setting letter and can choose between off-the-shelf target setting for well below 2 or 1.5 degrees. The criteria does not ask for a quantified Scope 3 target, but we strongly advise that companies set internal targets and commit to reducing Scope 3 emissions. There is also a lower validation fee for these smaller companies.

Achieving a science-based target

Setting a target is really the initial step, it is important to consider how you are going to achieve the reductions needed to be successful.

  • What happens if a company sets a target which gets validated, but the target is not reached at the required time?

The SBTi does not currently track companies’ progress against their targets but all companies with approved targets are required to annually report their company-wide emissions to ensure that progress towards delivering their targets can be tracked. Should it become apparent through their annual emissions inventories that a company is not delivering on its targets, the SBTi reserves the right to remove that company from external materials and websites. There will be no public announcements or related media publications if the SBTi deems it necessary to remove a company from its public lists.

It is common to not have a full understanding of exactly every action to take to hit your target. There will be known – unknowns for almost every company. This is fine, as it is likely that the known initiatives will provide plenty of opportunity for reduction in the first instance while a company, wider industry and society continue to innovate.

  • Scope 3 emissions are the most challenges to tackle, where do I start?

The first and most important thing is to identify the hotspot areas in your Scope 3. There may be aspects of your Scope 3 that are particularly challenging and out of your control. If they are of smaller materiality, then it is ok to move them aside.

A good question to ask is, what parts of your Scope 3 areas have the best synergies and overlaps with other priorities of your business? And how are you going to communicate your action to resonate with your consumers and suppliers?

For example: for an electrical goods company, decarbonising their products is likely to resonate with their consumer groups and if it resonates with them, it potentially provides a competitive advantage, raises your profile with investors, as well as giving stakeholders more confidence in the emissions reduction target.

Therefore, we would recommend focusing on what is important to you and your stakeholders, then you can understand where to start focusing your energies and which levers to pull.

For more information on Scope 3 and our steps to tackling these emissions, you can access our factsheet here.

  • Is it a good strategy to set a short well-below 2 degrees target (5 yrs) to give our organization time to adjust, then set the more ambitious 1.5 target as a second step?

Yes, should your company need such a transition period, this strategy would be a good step to start your journey towards reduced emissions. When assessing your pathway, it is worth assessing to what extent you can decarbonise, and which areas of your value chain you can decarbonise over the long term. It is important to note that once your 5-year target is achieved, you will be wiping the slate clean and resetting your baseline.

Using tools to set out your carbon reduction strategy and pathway are a good starting point to understand the availability of emission reductions and the best strategy to take.

  • Are there any tools/templates available to track CO2 reductions to ensure absolute reductions aligned with pathways?

At EcoAct, we have developed such a tool that can help. This tool is called CRaFT. It can support organisations to forecast their emissions, set a science-based target or a Net Zero target with confidence, gain buy-in for climate initiatives, and map and track an emissions reduction pathway.

We have just launched a new Factsheet explaining this piece of software that can be accessed here.

Level of ambition

SBTs are ambitious targets and we are frequently asked how important it is to set one and whether current best practice is as far as we need to go.

  • What if we are more ambitious than a 1.5 degree target?

There is nothing stopping companies submitting targets that go beyond the SBTi pathway thresholds. Such targets will be classified as 1.5°C on the SBTi website.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, no ambition can be too ambitious, and we encourage companies to demonstrate leadership to help drive forward progress in best practice. It might not gain specific recognition via the SBTi at this time, but it may provide a differentiating factor for your business, set you apart in your field, and resonate with your stakeholders.

  • Are Science Based Targets the only acceptable methodology for setting GHG emission target?

You can set emissions reduction targets that are not science-based. However, SBTs are considered best-practice and we would anticipate that the expectations for having an SBT will continue to rise as our climate goals become increasingly urgent (we are already at 1.1 degrees of warming!).

Setting an SBT and having it validated by the SBTi demonstrates to your stakeholders that you have made a credible and ambitious commitment to reducing your emissions in line with the science to help us avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

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