From refillable tubes to electric trucks, the power of setting science-based targets

Companies setting and using science-based targets are making a big difference in protecting our natural environment, cutting their carbon emissions by the equivalent of the yearly emissions from 78 coal-fired plants even as global emissions for energy and industrial processes grew by an average 0.85% per year.

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

This pace is faster than the pace required by the Paris Climate Accord, according to a study published earlier this year, and it is picking up as we get closer to this year’s climate change conference. More than 1,000 companies that make up 20% of the global economy have set or committed to set science-based targets. More companies are now setting targets aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C than a 2°C pathway or other type of target, says SBTI, the global body enabling businesses to set emissions reduction targets in line with climate science.

Europe is doing better than North America or Asia. In 16 OECD countries, a critical mass of 20% of high-emitting companies setting science-based targets has been reached, and the 20% threshold was also reached in six new sectors, including the high-emitting cement and concrete sector. Amazon, Facebook and Ford were among the more than 370 companies who joined SBTI in 2020.

(Targets are considered ‘science-based’ if they are in line with what climate science deems necessary to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.)

The SBTi is a partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Its core funding is provided by IKEA Foundation, Bezos Earth Fund, We Mean Business, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and The UPS Foundation. Its technical experts provide detailed feedback and support to companies throughout the target validation process, and it promotes companies who have adopted SBTIs

The study published in January 2021 was the first to look at how setting science-based targets correlates with corporate emissions reductions. It analysed a group of 338 companies (including Enel, Mastercard and Tesco) whose climate targets align with climate science and the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“SBTi finds that the typical company with SBTs actually slashed direct (scope 1 and 2) emissions at a linear annual rate (6.4%) that exceeds the rate required under the SBTi’s criteria to meet 1.5°C-aligned warming scenarios (4.2%),” the study found.“This shows companies with SBTs are taking climate action at rates that not only meet, but are faster than, the pace of action required by the Paris Agreement.”

Planned emissions savings of companies with science-based targets are also set to generate US$25.9 billion of new investment into climate mitigation initiatives in the next decade, according to SBTI research.

Two examples of the SBT initiatives. 

  • Tesco, the UK food retailer which in 2017 became the first company globally to set science-based targets in line with the 1.5 degree trajectory recommended in the Paris Climate Accord, has begun moving towards achieving 100% renewable electricity across its own operations by 2030, introduced a new fleet of electric delivery vans in London as part of plans to go fully electric by 2028, and began rolling out the UK’s largest retail network of electric vehicle charging points across 600 of its stores;
  • Colgate is working to promote sustainability and sustainable product design, such as a first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube whose design has been shared with suppliers, manufacturers and competitors to help reduce global emissions and boost the circular economy.

Lila Karbassi, Chief of Programmes at the UN Global Compact, one of the SBTi partners, says that the COVID pandemic “has revealed the vulnerability of our current economic model, and showed us that a coordinated global effort led by science is the only way out of such crises. We must channel these learnings into our collective response to the climate crisis. In many sectors and regions, we have reached a ‘critical mass’ of companies making meaningful commitments to reduce emissions, but this needs to be a global and sector-wide effort, supported by ambitious government policy, to truly build back better.”