by Adam Woodhall — The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change must be kept under 2, preferably 1.5, degrees. At COP21 in Paris last year, political leaders from around the world delighted many commentators by agreeing to keep climate change under the more stringent target. Sustainability leaders gathered in London recently at a Carbon Trust event
to hear why, and how, to use targets in their businesses to deliver reductions based on science.
The Science Based Targets Initiative
(SBTI) was launched by the CDP, UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF last year. At the event we heard from speakers from SBTI, who are designing this initiative, from two of those who are implementing the science based targets—BT and Land Securities—and those who are helping implement it, the Carbon Trust.
from Carbon Trust was the opening speaker at the event. He explained that "Targets adopted by companies to reduce carbon emissions are considered 'science based' if they are in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees." Susie Wood,
who works on the Science Based Targets Initiative at CDP, outlined their strategy: reduce barriers, institutionalise adoption, create critical mass, and use these to three to guide us through both the event and learning more about science based targets.
Head of Sustainability at Land Securities, was clear that to reduce barriers in her organisation, they needed to engage their leadership, going to the top, to the CEO. She then described how science-based targets can be used to overcome resistance to carbon reductions in organisations. Firstly, the SBT’s help support buy-in, as people like to play their part in keeping under two degrees. As targets are long term, they also define the sustainability strategy, which opens up discussions on the implications of targets for other areas—for example, in Land Securities situation, new developments and acquisitions. Furthermore, SBT’s are seen as robust, as they are part of an established methodology, with figures calculated by third party independent experts. Finally, they commit leadership to what is required, not just what is achievable.
Guy Rickard counselled that science-based targets can be challenging to communicate and encouraged organisations to develop robust, credible targets and make them accessible to stakeholders. Furthermore, he observed, there are numerous SBT methodologies; Guy counselled that choosing one that suits a company’s needs can be complex and should be well informed.
The SBTI institutionalises adoption of science-based targets by encouraging integration into existing management practices and leadership platforms, such as the CDP questionnaire, UN Caring for Climate, WWF Climate Savers and others.
Hill from Land Securities and the speaker from BT, Gabrielle Ginér,
attended the Paris COP. Both are also helping institutionalise adoption, too. Ginér shared that she was talking to government representatives at Paris and supporting them to recognise that business was behind climate targets. Hill reported that she came back inspired, with a desire to develop something that people can get to grips with. The tips she gave were: to be confident with data; engage stakeholders, internally and externally; establish milestones – as 2030 is far away; and finally, keep it simple, especially externally, and create internal KPI’s.
Looking back historically, BT is a definite leader in institutionalising adoption by setting and achieving targets. Impressively, they had set a target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2020, and had achieved 81% by 2015/16. This means they are now looking at new targets and considering how this could be based on a 1.5-degree scenario.
Create Critical Mass
When considering how to create a critical mass, Wood encouraged companies to go from a mindset of "Where can my company reduce some emissions" to one of "How much should a company reduce emissions to support a 2-degree pathway"?
It is clear that both BT and Land Securities are heeding this message, as they are both looking at steep decarbonisation pathways, with BT estimating that to stay below 1.5-degree for the rest of this century, there needs to be significant carbon taken out of the atmosphere from 2050 onwards.
The good news is that not only BT and Land Securities are creating a critical mass: SBTI launched in mid-2015 with an ambition of 250 companies signing up to science-based targets by 2018. The chair for the event, Hugh Jones
of the Carbon Trust, reported that 180 have already signed up! Therefore, it looks likely that the vision of the SBTI of science-based targets "becoming standard business practice" is well on track to being realised.