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Process to develop first science-based global standard for corporate net-zero targets launched

Posted on 15 September 2020

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), of which WWF is a partner, has debuted a process to develop the first science-based global standard for corporate net-zero target setting, with a view to ensuring that companies’ net-zero targets translate into climate action that is consistent with achieving a net-zero world by no later than 2050. 

A new paper, published today, lays out the conceptual foundations for credible, science-based net-zero targets for the corporate sector. 

The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global emissions must drop to net-zero by 2050 for the best chance of avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

The new paper from the SBTi, Foundations for Science-Based Net-Zero Target Setting in the Corporate Sector, is the result of extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from the scientific, business, conservation and financial spheres. 

The paper lays out the conceptual foundations for corporate net-zero target setting, including clarity on what it means for companies to reach net-zero emissions, analysis of existing net-zero target setting practices, assessment of strategies that are consistent with achieving a net-zero economy, and initial recommendations for science-based net-zero goals. The conceptual foundations discussed in the paper will be translated into detailed guidelines and criteria to be developed by the initiative as part of a continued multi-stakeholder process.

The paper authors conclude that: 
  • Climate science must inform net-zero strategies in the corporate sector to ensure that the growing momentum behind net-zero translates into action that is consistent with achieving a net-zero world by no later than 2050;
  • For a corporate net-zero target to be science-based, two conditions must be met:
  1. It must lead to a depth of decarbonization consistent with the profound cut in emissions needed in the global economy to limit warming to 1.5°C and;
  2. It must neutralize the impact of any sources of residual emissions that cannot be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Companies may choose to offset their emissions as they transition towards a state of net-zero emissions. This can help direct much needed finance from companies to activities that can avoid emissions or bring down the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. But offsetting emissions does not eliminate the need to reduce emissions in line with science: this must remain the overarching priority for companies and the central focus of any credible net-zero strategy.

Alexander Farsan, global lead for Science Based Targets at WWF, one of the Science Based Targets initiative partners said: “This paper gives a solid, science-based grounding to what it really means for a company to achieve net-zero. It makes it clear that to reach net-zero and avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, companies need to urgently and drastically cut their emissions in line with science before exploring any other options.” 

Alberto Carrillo Pineda, a report author and director of Science Based Targets at CDP, one of the SBTi partners, said: “Net-zero by 2050 is our north star but every second that passes between now and then will determine whether or not we get there. There is no time to lose. Alongside long-term ambition we need to see aggressive emissions reductions in line with climate science, now, and across all sectors of the global economy. Hundreds of companies around the world are already showing that this is possible and putting their trust in science to build the zero-carbon economy of the future.”

Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, said: “As governments work to recover from the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to rebuild a healthy, resilient and zero carbon economy that mitigates future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth. Ambition is growing, and as we ramp up our collective efforts to deliver on the Paris Agreement, we must unite behind science to guide our action. That means a robust and science-based understanding of what net-zero means, and what needs to happen in order to get there.” 

Currently, the SBTi validates companies’ greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets if they are consistent with keeping warming to well below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Over 990 companies have committed to set science-based targets and over 460 have targets validated by the initiative. 

To date, over 270 companies have made commitments in line with reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 through the Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign, led by the SBTi in partnership with the UN Global Compact and the We Mean Business coalition. 

For more information, contact:
Mandy Jean Woods -
Renewable energy
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