Science-based targets: Are 2C goals ambitious enough in the wake of the IPCC report?

EXCLUSIVE: In light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) landmark report into global warming, should businesses be encouraged to bolster their emission reduction goals to align with a 1.5C pathway?

edie's hour-long webinar on science-based targets is available to watch on demand

edie's hour-long webinar on science-based targets is available to watch on demand

That was one of the key discussion points from a panel of sustainability experts from BT, Capgemini, Signify and the Price of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, who this week discussed how businesses can embed the aims of the Paris Agreement into their carbon reduction strategies during edie’s science-based targets webinar.

Hosted in conjunction with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of Green GB Week – and now available on demand – the hour-long webinar saw panellists debate how businesses can best go beyond incremental carbon reductions to drive the level of decarbonisation needed to meet legally-binding climate targets and limit global warming to below 2C.

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While more than 490 businesses have joined the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) since it launched in 2015 – and a further 800 have made public pledges to set science-based targets in the near future – only TescoBT and Carlsberg have set goals in line with the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious 1.5C trajectory.

Earlier this week, WWF revealed that the SBTi will offer new tools that enable companies to set more ambitious carbon reduction targets that are aligned with 1.5C pathways – in light of the IPCC’s findings.

During edie’s webinar, which aired from 2-3pm on Thursday (18 October), BT’s head of sustainable business policy Gabrielle Ginér was asked whether businesses should still regard 2C goals as “sufficiently science-based” in the wake of the IPCC’s recent findings.

The Panel’s amalgamation of more than 4,000 pieces of scientific research last week concluded that a 2C world would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people compared to a 1.5C scenario.

“For us, we had already looked at the very ambitious level of action and committed to a 1.5C pathway,” Ginér said. “We hope that through the IPCC report and with climate really being spotlighted, other companies will come and join on this pathway.”

BT set its SBTi-approved science-based target in September 2017, pledging to reduce emissions by 87% by 2030 against a 2016/17 baseline. However, in light of the IPCC’s advice, the telecoms giant this week decided to increase the ambition of its targets and commit to becoming a net-zero-carbon business by 2045.

Beyond incremental and operational

Ginér’s sentiments were echoed by Capgemini’s head of sustainability James Robey, who recently led the global IT consultancy’s sustainability journey to surpass its 2020 carbon reduction and energy saving targets three years early.

The company exceeded its science-based aim of reducing the carbon footprint per employee by 20% by 2020 last year, recording a 22% cut for 2017 and a performance reduction of 30% per employee since 2014.

Capgemini is now targeting a 30% reduction per employee by 2030 against the same baseline and is also aiming give its internal sustainability goals a wider reach externally by encouraging its clients to set similar targets. Specifically, the company this year unveiled a new goal to help its clients save 10 million tonnes CO2 by 2030.

“I do think we need to look at going further,” Robey explained. “For us – and I know it has for BT as well - the net-positive initiative has helped us to look beyond the boundaries of our own organisation to where we could make a bigger difference.”

He added: “We are going to look at the implications of 1.5C as a science-based target, but for me, our main focus will be on how we can make an impact with our clients, which is more than we could do with our own footprint because it is, in global terms, relatively small.”

Offering advice to other businesses seeking to set science-based targets, Robey stressed the importance of making emissions aims relevant, relatable and front-loaded.

“The urgency suggests that we need to reduce the carbon emissions now and not just back-end the reduction for another five, ten or 15 years from now,” he said.

“By setting bold targets, we have surprised ourselves by how quickly we can achieve against them. In terms of boldness, I would rather set a target that is aggressive and get somewhere near it than set something easy and jump over it, making a smaller impact.”

A new baseline?

Summing up the discussion, the Price of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group’s director Eliot Whittington said that a 2C trajectory would need to be framed as the “absolute baseline” for business ambition going forward.

“One of the things that we have heard again and again from a surprising number of businesses is that setting stretch targets that require companies to reinvent their way of doing things has yielded so many benefits – from new product lines, new markets and new approaches, to genuine innovation that has triggered cost breakthroughs,” Whittington concluded.

“Leadership such as that shown by BT, Tesco and Carlsberg is really important to hold up and to show what is possible.”

You can tune into edie’s science-based targets webinar on demand for free here.

Sarah George



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