Science-based targets – what, why and how?

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Science-based targets - What, Why, How?

There is an urgent need for rapid climate action if we are to reach net-zero by 2050 and as a result, the movement for science-based targets (SBTs) has continued to gather pace. 2021 marked a year of significant growth for science-based targets with the Science-Based Target initiative finding that companies committing science-based targets now represent $38 trillion of the global economy. October 2021 also saw the launch of the new Net-Zero Standard, outlining a clear blueprint for organisations wanting to set ambitious net-zero targets to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Science-based targets are considered best practice in terms of climate target setting and are recognised by major sustainability reporting frameworks, including CDP. As organisations look to align emissions reductions targets with the latest science, SBTs are becoming an integral element of a credible net-zero strategy.

Everything you need to get you up to speed on SBTs is below.

What are science-based targets?

Prior to SBTs, organisations were free to set emission reduction targets themselves. Targets have typically been based on predicted organisational performance, energy efficiency feasibility as well as the performance of a peer group, the expectations of stakeholders or a combination of the above.

Science-based targets (SBT) focus not on the organisation, its commercial environment or its ability to meet a predefined and achievable goal, but are aligned with climate science and what we collectively need to do to limit the impacts of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that we must halve global emissions by 2030 if we are keep within 1.5°C of global warming and reach net-zero by 2050. Essentially, SBTs establish emission reductions that support the global actions required to limit temperature increases to this level.

Following the launch of the new Net-Zero Standard, organisations are now required to set both near- and long-term emissions reductions targets in order to reach net-zero and align with the science. Near-term targets should focus on emissions reductions over the next 5-10 years and long-term targets on achieving net-zero by 2050, both aligned to the 1.5°C reduction trajectory.

Over 3,000 companies are now taking action with the Science-based Target initiative, a joint partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). At the time of writing over 1,500 companies have now submitted science-based targets that have been approved by the SBTi.

Why set science-based targets?

Setting science-based targets makes sense when considering the challenge we collectively face in managing dangerous climate change. SBT’s support the transition to a low carbon economy, to help avoid the worst effects of climate change. However, setting SBTs will also bring multiple benefits to your company. Setting a SBT can help drive emissions, energy and cost reduction internally and satisfy key external stakeholder demands and reporting requirements:

  • Future-proofing
    As we collectively work towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and aim to achieve net-zero by 2050, organisations are going to be subject to increased regulation. Setting SBTs can help future-proof your business and make you more resilient.
  • Risks & Opportunities
    Detailed analysis of operations and supply chains to inform the target setting process helps identify risks and opportunities within your business. This enables more robust management of any climate-related risk and identification of opportunities that may benefit your operations or even your bottom line.
  • Cost Savings
    Aggressive targets drive cost reductions as you look to improve business efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
  • Reporting Performance
    External benchmarking indices are placing increasing pressure on companies to build and disclose SBTs, which will affect your performance scores.
  • Reputation
    SBTs demonstrate strategic long-term thinking and leadership, reinforcing positive reputations with investors and customers. It is after all the right thing to do.

How to set science-based targets

Setting a SBT is different from traditional emission reduction targets. SBTs are ‘top down’, long-term and more challenging in nature. To make this process easier to understand, we have separated the main tasks into five key steps.

 1. Set solid foundations
Before setting a science-based target it is essential to understand why you are setting SBTs, what it is you want to achieve, and where you are already on your sustainability journey. At this stage collaboration with key internal stakeholders is essential, to ensure your SBT is aligned to your wider corporate objectives.

2. Identify a targeting approach that’s right for you
There are several different approaches for setting science-based targets for emission scopes 1,2 & 3 and specific requirements for small and medium enterprises. Consider which approach is right for you.

3. Define and calculate your science-based target
At this stage you need to define your baseline and calculate your target to be in line with the 1.5°C reduction trajectory. At EcoAct we have developed the Carbon Reduction and Feasibility Tool (CRaFT) that can be used to support this target setting process.

4. Mapping your reduction trajectory and gaining approval
Model and develop a clear roadmap of how you will achieve your SBT. This will help you gain buy-in and senior approval.

5. Gain SBTi validation and achieve your target
Gaining validation for your target from the Science-based Target initiative is not mandatory, however it comes with reputational benefits. Gaining validation and communicating transparently to your stakeholders also demonstrates the credibility of your commitment.

For everything you need to know about these steps, download our SBT Factsheet.

To date EcoAct has supported 51 companies from a wide range of sectors in setting their SBTs and gaining validation from the SBTi, including the pharmaceutical laboratory Servier. We are a Global Gold level partner and accredited SBT supplier with CDP, and also part of the SBTi FI working group to establish an SBT methodology for the Financial Sector. If you are looking to set a SBT, get in contact with us.

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About EcoAct

At EcoAct we are driven by a shared purpose to make a difference. To help businesses to implement positive change in response to climate and carbon challenges, whilst also driving commercial performance.

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Do you know how to set a science-based target? Our factsheet on the 5 steps to setting and meeting a science-based target will show you how to align your carbon reduction targets with the rate of decarbonisation required by science to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Learn how to assess the feasibility of your target, the recommended approaches and the stages of calculating an SBT.

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