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Reasons to set science-based carbon targets

Carbon Intel Science Based TargetsScience-based targets are becoming hard to avoid. In years gone by, carbon target-setting in business was driven by a commercial imperative, a function of economic impact, rather than any measure of climate realism. Whilst this approach still defines most carbon target-setting approaches, it’s unlikely to accurately reflect a company’s carbon stake in the worldwide effort to limit global temperature rise to less than 2ºC, as set out in the Paris Climate Accord.

Science-based targets look to address this mis-match by aligning a company’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions with climate science. The partnership behind the initiative (which includes the UN Global Compact, CDP, World Resources Institute and WWF) has set out a series of drivers for adopting a science-based target, which are essentially the same as those which have encouraged businesses to adopt carbon targets in the past.

Science-based targets can act as a driver of innovation, as the business figures out how to meet the carbon target (the ‘start-up mentality‘ as Kelloggs call it) and, in so doing, improves its own competitiveness. There’s also a boost to credibility and reputation, and the promise of a head-start in the evolving world of carbon compliance and wider climate and energy policy.

So how does it work? Since every business is different, there’s a choice of three approaches to setting a target – Sectoral-based, Absolute-based, or Economic-based – and since every business, sector and national economy is different, with unique growth trajectories and regulations, the setting of a target will be tailored to the business concerned.

However, before you can think about specifics, businesses need to submit a written commitment to setting a science-based target. If your company already has an emissions reduction target, it must have its existing target independently verified to a set of science-based target criteria. The business can then move on to announcing its target to the public.

It will be interesting to see the uptake amongst businesses beyond the usual suspects of climate leaders. Around 800 of the businesses that currently report to the CDP state that they will set a science-based target within the next two years, and a small but influential pool of businesses (336 to date) are currently recognised by the Science-Based Target Initiative as having committed to act. It certainly feels that the initiative looks set to gather pace and become the benchmark for credible target setting in the corporate world. Next stop, net zero carbon by 2050?

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