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Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi): Definition and application

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Beyond anticipating increasingly demanding regulatory standards on the issue, the transition to a low-carbon economy can be seen as a competitive advantage for a company. Global and ambitious climate action must be able to reconcile economic and climate interests: this is the very foundation of sustainable development, and the driving principle of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).



What is the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) ?


science-based-targets-initiative-logo

The Science Based Targets initiative aims to support companies in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, aligning with the targets established by the Paris Agreement at Cop-21. The SBT initiative originated in 2015 through the collaboration of several institutions:


  • The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an organization that collects and publishes data related to the environmental impacts of the largest companies ;

  • The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), which encourages companies to respect 10 principles related to human rights and the environment;

  • The World Resource Institute (WRI), a think tank specialized in environmental issues;

  • The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a historic NGO dedicated to sustainable development and environmental protection.

The SBTi provides companies with approaches for setting science-based targets to achieve net-zero emissions globally, ensuring that each company's low-carbon strategy aligns with climate science data and advances. The Sciance Based Targets initiative missions are to:

  • Define and promote best practices in terms of GHG emissions reduction and net-zero objectives, following scientific recommendations;

  • Provide target identification methods and guidance to companies for setting science-based targets;

  • Provide technical assistance and expert resources to companies with independent assessment and validation of targets


Why should companies commit to the SBTi?


The objectives, set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to keep the temperature rise below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, can only be achieved through a global strategy that combines the efforts of various actors: governments, businesses, the financial sector, and civil society


Companies play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. Increasingly committed to identifying their GHG emissions, the initial step in any reduction strategy, companies are integrating climate action into their development strategies, often within the framework of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). However, these commitments are still too rarely grounded in scientific knowledge on the subject. The long-term objectives are often not aligned with the collective target of keeping global warming below 2°C.


By committing to the Science Based Targets initiative, a company ensures that it sets objectives that are meaningful and fully aligned with its sector of activity and scientific recommendations. A commitment to the SBTi fosters, in particular:

  • Clear and measurable framework for achieving GHG reduction targets: The SBTi provides a structured approach to setting and achieving ambitious GHG reduction targets, ensuring that companies have a clear roadmap for their sustainability efforts.

  • Enhanced transparency and accountability: By publicly committing to SBTi targets, companies are held accountable for their progress and must regularly report on their emissions reductions. This transparency builds trust with stakeholders and demonstrates a company's commitment to sustainable practices.

  • Stronger risk management and resilience: Addressing climate change through SBTi targets helps companies identify and mitigate climate-related risks, enhancing their long-term resilience and financial stability.

  • Attracting and retaining top talent: Companies committed to the SBTi are increasingly attractive to environmentally conscious employees, fostering a culture of innovation and sustainability.

  • Gaining a competitive advantage in a low-carbon economy: As the world transitions to a low-carbon economy, companies that proactively reduce their GHG emissions will be well-positioned to succeed in this new market landscape.


According to the SBTi dashboard, as of November 2023, more than 6,700 companies or financial institutions have committed or plan to commit to the SBTi in the next 24 months. Among them, 3,900 companies have climate targets validated as science-based.



The 5-step process to involve your company in the SBTi


The commitment of companies to the Science Based Targets initiative follows a 5-step process, leading to the adoption of a carbon target validated by their experts.

sbti-step-by-step-process
Step-by-step process as displayed on the SBTi website

Commit

In the initial phase of the engagement process, the company's commitment is formalized through a commitment letter. By signing this commitment letter, the company indicates its intent to join the growing group of leading corporations that are setting emissions reduction targets in line with climate science recommendations


Develop

After signing the commitment letter, the company has 24 months to develop a target that aligns with scientific knowledge. Six months before the deadline, the SBT initiative will follow up with the company. The development process includes using online resources, comprehensive guidance, and sector-specific requirements to assist companies in aligning their targets with the SBTi's criteria


Submit

The Target check form enables the SBTi technical committee to assess the admissibility of the company's target. Strict criteria are applied by the team of experts to approve or reject the targets developed by the company, according to its conformity with the science and with the global targets set by the IPCC. These criteria include the consideration of all GHGs from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG) for Scopes 1 and 2, a timeframe for achieving the targets between 5 and 15 years, and the consideration of Scope 3 when it represents more than 40% of the company's GHG emissions.


Communicate

Once the objectives have been validated by the SBTi team, the company can transparently communicate with its stakeholders about its ambitions and commitments. This step involves explaining the goals and their significance, as well as outlining the steps the company will take to achieve them. The official validation of a company's carbon target is also published on the SBTi website and can be referenced in the communications of the initiative's partners (CDP, UNGC, WRI, WWF).


Disclose

The final step involves the company's obligation to report its company-wide emissions and track progress against targets on an annual basis. Additionally, the company must provide information on the steps it is taking to reduce emissions and mitigate climate-related risks



Learn more about the step-by-step process to set a science-based target on the SBTi website.



In conclusion


Far beyond being merely another label designed to showcase a company's commitment to climate responsibility, the Science Based Targets initiative aims to ensure the meaningfulness of companies' commitments and actions, verifying their alignment scientific knowledge on climate issues. SBTi also equips companies with valuable resources and a solid methodology, eanbling them to translate the global greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction objective into a carbon target that is tailored to their specific sector.

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