Your FAQs on setting science-based targets, answered by the SBTi

EXCLUSIVE: The Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) head of standards Emma Watson has spoken exclusively to edie to answer some of your top questions about developing verified climate targets for your organisation.

Your FAQs on setting science-based targets, answered by the SBTi

From small beginnings at its launch in 2015, the SBTi has grown exponentially to become the world’s biggest verifier of corporate climate targets. At the time of writing, more than 4,700 companies have pledged to set SBTi-aligned goals to reduce emissions from their operations and value chains, with around 2,400 of them having had these goals officially verified.

The reasons for this growth are numerous, including top-down pressures on businesses like the adoption of net-zero targets by nations and regions; bottom-up pressures like investor and consumer demand for clearer sustainability plans; and simply reasons relating to minimising climate risk and building in resilience.

As the SBTi gains ever-more attention from businesses and continues to evolve its standards, more and more organisations are asking questions about how, exactly, they can go about getting involved.

At edie’s recent edie 23 event on 1 and 2 March, the SBTi’s head of standards Emma Watson appeared on a panel discussion alongside Chris Skidmore MP, Laura Sandys and experts from Nesta and Centrica Business Solutions.

The questions came in thick and fast for Watson, and there was not time to answer them all. Thankfully, we caught up with Watson post-conference to put some of the most frequently asked questions to her. You can read her answers below.

Pictured: Emma Watson of the SBTi. Image: Mark Lacey

Q: Can SMEs set science-based targets and, if so, which SMEs? How should they go about this? 

A: “Yes, the SBTi has a streamlined route that all SMEs, apart from financial institutions and fossil fuel companies, can use. This streamlined route enables SMEs to bypass the initial stage of committing to set science-based targets, and to immediately set science-based targets by choosing from one of several predefined target options.

“Unlike for larger companies, the SBTi only requires SMEs to set targets for their Scope 3 (indirect) emissions if they are committing to long-term net-zero targets. However,] all] SMEs must commit to measuring and reducing their Scope 3 emissions in the near-term.

Q: Are there plans for public sector organisations to be able to set SBTs? Why did the SBTi start with the private sector?

A: “Public sector organisations can use existing SBTi resources to develop their own targets. The initiative does not, however, assess and validate targets from these organizations.

“The SBTi was created to accelerate climate action from the private sector by filling the knowledge gap between climate science and industry. In order to make the greatest impact possible, the initiative started by engaging with the corporations responsible for a large amount of emissions.

“The SBTi has now reached a ‘critical mass’ globally and in key regions, with 27% of all high-impact companies setting science-based targets worldwide. Now, our team reviews more than 1,000 target submissions each year.”

Q: How is the SBTi dealing with a huge increase in applications for verified targets?

A: “In 2021, the SBTi validated more targets from businesses than in all the previous six years combined.

“Demand continues to grow and we anticipate it will continue significantly in the coming years. We are increasing our capacity so that we can meet our goals of reaching 10,000 companies and five gigatonnes of corporate emission coverage by 2025.

“We’re also continually improving our technical governance to ensure we maintain our credibility and robustness while meeting that demand. On Monday (27 March) we will announce the members of our new Technical Council, a permanent, independent decision-making body appointed and overseen by the SBTi Executive Board.

“We have also appointed the SBTi’s first compliance director, Anita Sheth, and chief impact officer, Maria Outters. In addition, Paul Simpson OBE, former CDP chief executive, is working with the SBTi as strategic advisor.”

Q: What is the average waiting time for a company, between submitting targets and achieving verification? 

“The huge interest in science-based targets from companies and financial institutions around the world has also led to soaring demand for validation which means that at the point of reserving a target validation slot the earliest available slots can be up to six months away.

A: “Our goal is that businesses should wait no longer than 60 business days to start their target validation process, and we are significantly increasing capacity and developing short-term technical solutions to make this happen. In the interim, the SBTi urges companies and financial institutions to plan ahead and reserve their validation slot at the earliest opportunity.

“The average wait time between target submission and validation is affected by several factors, including the quality of information provided by the company, which could mean that the SBTi’s target analysts need to go back to a company for additional information.

“We urge companies submitting targets for validation to read all requirements and guidance carefully, in particular, the Net-Zero Standard and our target validation protocol, as well as provide all the information needed to ensure a swift target validation process. “

Q: What can be done to encourage the take-up of SBTs in markets or sectors where they are not common at the moment?

A: “The number of businesses setting science-based targets is growing exponentially. Our strategy aims to close the current ambition and emissions gap by massively scaling up 1.5C-aligned corporate climate action in the next three years, especially in the areas where there is the greatest need: the heaviest-emitting sectors and emerging markets.

“Between September and December 2022, the SBTi published sector-specific guidance for the forest, land and agriculture (FLAG), cement and maritime sectors, which together are responsible for 30% of global emissions. This adds to the existing sector-specific guidance which the SBTi had already published, including for the information and communication technology, power and finance sectors. This year, we will continue to develop guidance for more heavy-emitting sectors including oil and gas and steel.

“Uptake of science-based targets is growing globally, with particularly rapid uptake in Asia. Our Country Activation and Incubators Projects to increase in Latin America, Asia and Africa have already delivered promising results by setting in motion the adoption of science-based targets across emerging markets.“

Q: The SBTi is phasing out 2C-aligned targets. What exactly happens to organisations with 2C-aligned targets now?

A: “As of 15 July 2022, the SBTi has only been accepting target submissions in line with 1.5°C. Companies that already had approved targets aligned with 2°C or well-below 2°C will need to recalculate and resubmit their targets to align with 1.5°C within five years of their initial validation.”

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