Corporates are on notice. To achieve science based net zero targets their goals must align with warming of no more than 1.5°C and they must neutralise their impact of residual by removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

To ensure that net-zero targets in the corporate world translate into tangible actions, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) recently launched a process to develop the first science-based global standard for companies to achieve this ambition by no later 2050.

The process is marked with the publication of SBTI’s new paper, Foundations for Science-Based Net-Zero Target Setting in the Corporate Sector, which was published following extensive consultation with stakeholders across the scientific, business, conservation and financial sectors.

It lays out the conceptual foundations for a science-based 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
  • initial recommendations for science-based net-zero goals

According to the paper, for a corporate net-zero target to be science-based, two conditions must be met:

  • it must lead to a depth of decarbonisation consistent with the cut in emissions needed in the global economy to limit warming to 1.5°C
  • It must neutralise the impact of any sources of residual emissions that can’t be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

SBTI will translate these conceptual foundations into detailed guidelines and criteria to be developed as part of a continued multi-stakeholder process.

“Alongside long term ambition, we need to see aggressive emissions reductions in line with climate science and across all sectors of the global economy,” said Alberto Carrillo Pineda, a report author and director of Science Based Targets at CDP.

“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.”

Currently, SBTI validates companies’ greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets if they are consistent with keeping warming to well below 2°C, or 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

And so far, over 990 companies have committed to set science-based targets and over 460 have targets already validated by the initiative.

This includes Australian property companies Investa, Dexus and Frasers Property Australia; banking institutions Westpac and Bank Australia; along with major organisations like Telstra, Woolworths and Australia Post, among many others.

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 SBTI in partnership with the UN Global Compact and the We Mean Business coalition.

“The number of businesses committing to reach net-zero emissions is rapidly growing, as they realise the urgency of tackling the climate crisis and future-proofing growth,” added Mr. Pineda.

“But not all net-zero targets are equal. The definition of net-zero itself, as well as the path to get there, are diverse and often inconsistent.

“For the private sector to take the large-scale action required, businesses need a common, robust and science-based understanding of net-zero, otherwise, they risk following a path that’s not consistent with addressing neither the climate crisis or the sustainability goals.

“Our new paper cuts through the confusion on key concepts by defining net-zero and clarifying the role of decarbonisation, offsetting and nature-based climate solutions in a business’ strategy.”

Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, believes we have a unique opportunity to rebuild a zero carbon economy “that mitigates future threats and unlocks 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 mans and what needs to happen in order to get there.”

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