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Science-based targets: What are they and why use them?

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You're ready to commit to net zero carbon and want to reduce your company’s carbon footprint to play your part in the fight against climate change. But where do you start?

Your journey should start with a strategy driven by science-based targets. But what are science-based targets and why should you focus on them? Read on to find out…  

What is a science-based target?

A science-based target (SBT) is a goal or set of goals developed by a business to provide a clearly defined pathway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The target details how much and how quickly a business needs to reduce its emissions.

To be ‘science-based’, an emissions reduction target must be in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below 2C from pre-industrial levels in line with the Paris Agreement.

How do science-based targets differ from other sustainability targets?

They focus purely on greenhouse gas emission reduction. The targets, led by science, are based on current climate science and projections of what’s known as the ‘emissions budget’.

Why do science-based targets matter?

The science has never been clearer, last year was the hottest year on record, setting a new high for the third year in a row. With industry responsible for the largest number of emissions across the globe, the need to transition to a low-carbon economy is vital.

Using science-based targets to plan the reduction in emissions in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase well below 2C is seen as a critical step in the low-carbon transition.

A breakdown of four step process to tackle your science based targets. Step 1: submit a commitment letter. Step 2: develop a target. Step 3: submit target for validation. Step 4: announce the target.

Are there any challenges to rolling out science-based targets?

The science-based approach to setting targets is still new so businesses may find it difficult to get buy-in from their employees and supply chain. To be effective, the process requires agreement and engagement  from stakeholders at every level.

Communication will also play a vital role in the success of targets, clearly defining what you are doing, why you are choosing to do it and what the process involves will help to get your teams on board.

Time and resource will also directly impact the process. This isn’t a quick fix. To set and deliver targets, businesses will need to allocate a significant amount of time and resource to ensure they stay on track.

Why should you adopt a science-based target approach?

While still relatively new, there is already a good body of evidence to support the business benefits of this approach to carbon reduction. Businesses can expect to see cost savings as well as energy and carbon savings.

The approach encourages businesses to think about their long-term sustainability plan and can even lead to innovative developments to accelerate carbon reduction.

A clearly defined science-based target will also enhance a company’s reputation with key stakeholders such as investors, customers, employees and NGOs.

What happens if science-based targets aren't met?

Even the most thought-out targets may not be met due to unexpected circumstances. If this happens, communication is key. Companies will need to ensure there is transparency and that stakeholder expectations are managed. Sharing and elaborating on plans to move forward will also be key. 

Where can I find more information?

Our sustainability team can help you to set a science-based target and work with you to set a tailored net zero route plan. We can help you embed your strategies and industry best practice into your business. 

You can find more information on the Science Based Target website.

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