Report: UK can still meet climate ambitions if all large businesses in set 1.5C science-based targets

Unless all large businesses in the UK draw up and implement plans decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement's 1.5C trajectory within two years, the nation risks missing its long-term net-zero target.

UK-based businesses with 1.5C-aligned targets only account for 3% of annual national business-related emissions

UK-based businesses with 1.5C-aligned targets only account for 3% of annual national business-related emissions

That is according to a new report from Sky and WWF, produced in partnership with CDP and Natural Capital Partners. The report is entitled ‘Corporate Ambition Meets Net-Zero Mission’ and was published today (22 October).

Companies are responsible for two-thirds of the UK’s domestic land-based emissions annually, the report states, with large businesses accounting for the largest proportion.

As such, if all large businesses set science-based targets in line with 1.5C by 2023, half of the emissions reductions needed to reach net-zero by 2050 would be delivered by the private sector.

The net-zero scenario used in the report is the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) net-zero balanced pathway, under which the transition is front-loaded in terms of absolute emissions reduction, with a 78% reduction against a 1990 baseline delivered by 2035. This pathway forms the basis of the UK’s  Carbon Budget and, in its development, the CCC considered just transition principles.

The report warns that any delay in increasing corporate ambitions and actions on the net-zero transition will risk jeapordising the nation’s progress as a whole. It states that, if all companies in the UK had adopted science-based climate targets in line with 1.5C in 2019, the nation could have achieved a 78% reduction in emissions against a 1990 baseline by 2030.

While the number of companies with science-based targets has increased rapidly in recent years – there are now more than 950 globally with ambitions for 1.5C, up from just three in 2018 – the new report states that the overall proportion of UK corporate emissions currently covered by approved science-based targets is just 3%.

UK-based firms with 1.5C-aligned, approved targets include Asos, Compass Group, Diageo, Go-Ahead, Grosvenor, EY, Tesco, AstraZeneca, British Land and Landsec.

The report implores all other corporates to follow in their footsteps by the end of 2023, and to develop transition plans as well as net-zero ambitions and supporting science-based targets. Transition plans set out how a business plans to change investments, approaches to skills, which facilities they operate and, potentially, the new business models they will adopt. They also usually include information about how workers and local communities will be supported.

HM Treasury this week confirmed that the publication of transition plans will be made mandatory for large businesses in selected high-emitting sectors. The report urges the Government to follow this pledge with a clear timetable for implementation before COP26.

WWF’s director of sustainable economy Karen Ellis said: “Companies are key to the Government keeping its climate promises. Cutting our climate emissions in line with Paris Agreement targets is still achievable but will require fast action and leadership from the Government and across all business sectors.”  

Sky’s director of Bigger Picture Fiona Ball added: “This report highlights that the fight against climate change cannot be won by a handful of companies. If we are to protect the planet for future generations, we cannot afford to delay meaningful action.”

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is notably increasing minimum target-setting requirements from 2C to 1.5C in light of updated climate science. All companies and financial institutions that submit targets from 15 July 2022 will need to align to the new criteria. Any corporate that had targets 2C approved in 2020 or earlier has until 2025 to update targets.

New targets

The WWF and Sky report follows a fairly busy week for SBTi approval being granted to corporate targets.

Among the businesses to have gained verification this week is the BBC, which announced plans to cut direct emissions by 46% by 2030, and indirect emissions by 28% within the same timeframe, before offsetting emissions to reach net-zero. Other target setters include:

  • Chemicals business Johnson Matthey, which will reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and cut Scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services by 20% within the same timeframe. The new targets are 2C-aligned.
  • Real estate and private wealth law firm Forsters LLP, which has pledged to halve emissions across all scopes by 2030, against a 2019 baseline.
  • Materials science and manufacturing giant Avery Denison, which will reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 70% by 2030 and cut Scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services and end-of-life treatment for sold products by 2030. The former target has a 2015 baseline, the latter, a 2018 baseline.
  • Finnish pulp and paper business Stora Enso, which will halve operational emissions by 2030, against a 2019 baseline. The same ambition has been set for all Scope 3 emissions. These targets are 1.5C-aligned.
  • Dutch multinational engineering and project management consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, which will reduce emissions from offices and business travel by 80% by 2030.
  • Dubai-based logistics and transportation firm Aramex, which committed to set 2C-aligned targets within 24 months. Only five other firms in the UAE have made this commitment.

Sarah George



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