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What are science-based targets and how do they work?

Reducing the disruptive effects of global warming like floods, droughts and fires requires companies to cut the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that scientists say is causing climate change. To do this, they must set emissions reductions targets. But where to start? Science-based targets reflect the latest climate science findings on emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. These goals were set based on findings from a scientific panel of experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These science-based goals are the path to achieving the decarbonized economy that will avoid the worst effects of climate change. As announced at COP26 conference in 2021, almost 90% of global emissions are now covered by a zero emissions target in force or under discussion.
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Companies can get advice and help in setting and meeting their emissions reduction goals from the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.  According to the SBTi, over 4,000 companies have set or committed to setting a science based target as of end-2022 and over 1,500 of them have Net Zero commitments.

How to set a science-based target?

A company that wants to set a science-based target can work with the Science-Based Target Initiative to set objectives. Once these goals are clearly defined by the company, they are validated by the SBTi and become targets. Companies that go through this process benefit from detailed feedback and support from the SBTi’s technical experts.


Setting a science-based target with SBTi is a five-step process:

  • Commit: submit a letter to SBTi stating the intent to set a science-based target
  • Develop: work on an emissions reduction target in line with the SBTi’s criteria
  • Submit: present the 1.5°C-aligned target to SBTi for official validation
  • Communicate: announce the target and inform stakeholders
  • Disclose: report company-wide emissions in annual reports, on website and also through CDP, and track target progress annually

What is the aim of science-based target initiatives?



The process driving the energy transition for a sustainable world

The aim of science-based target groups like Science-Based Targets Initiative is to increase ambition in the fight against climate change, enabling organizations to set science-based emissions reduction targets. These targets, enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, are based on findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body of experts created to assess climate change-related science. Organizations like SBTi provide independent, external technical assistance and expert resources to companies and financial institutions for a fee, to help them set science-based targets in line with the latest climate science.

What are the benefits of science-based targets?

When companies set science-based targets, the results are clearly good for the planet in terms of cleaner air and environment, and reducing the effects of climate change like extreme weather. As thousands of companies have already discovered, science-based targets are also good for business. Setting these targets forces a company to think long term, balancing profitability with a positive effect on the environment and society.


Here’s a look at some of the benefits:

  • Brand reputation: many consumers are aware of the effect their choices have on the environment, and they have an increasing number of tools to help them pick products that are “green.”
  • Investor appeal: investors are increasingly taking environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance into account when they decide to allocate funds.
  • Regulatory compliance: national governments that have signed the Paris Agreement will need to pass legislation to curb emissions.
  • Innovation driver: rethinking a business model in order to meet emissions reduction targets forces a company to innovate products and processes, opening up new opportunities.
  • Cost savings: cutting GHG emissions often involves reducing waste, streamlining operations, and using less energy. These efforts result in a better bottom line.

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