This week the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) launched what it's calling the world's first emissions targets standard for farming, forestry and other kinds of land use. Companies in the forest, land and agriculture sectors must pledge to end deforestation by 2025 to have their targets certified as science-based under the new guidance. They must also commit to reducing their overall emissions and using land-based solutions to sequester carbon. These sectors are responsible for 22 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the largest sector emitter after energy.
Until now, few companies accounted for land-based emissions in their science-based targets or climate disclosures, largely due to the lack of available guidance. The new SBTi guidance provides land-intensive businesses with the carbon accounting tools necessary to help prevent some of the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
TriplePundit spoke with Martha Stevenson, senior director of strategy and research at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and senior advisor for the SBTi, about what makes up the new standard and what business leaders can expect.
“We break down the emissions into two categories: land use change and land management," she explained. "Land use change includes clearing forests and grasslands for new pasture or plantations, and that accounts for 11 percent of emissions globally. Land management, on the other hand, includes the management of livestock, feed, methane, manure, fertilizer application and runoff. It also includes tractors and other farm and forestry equipment.”
Stopping deforestation and land-use change is critical to reducing emissions and slowing climate change, Stevenson said. “Soils could be storing carbons based on a number of things, like how regenerative the land management practices are or releasing carbon if you have significant fire or disease, and those numbers can shift year over year," she told us.
Christa Anderson, director at WWF and co-lead of the SBTi land-use project, agreed. “The next few years are critical in our efforts to address the climate crisis, and this guidance addresses 22 percent of global emissions that have largely been ignored to date," she told us. "The food, land and agriculture sector has the potential to both cut emissions and enhance carbon sinks at the pace to keep the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.”
Certain land-intensive companies that have already committed to science-based targets will be required by SBTi to comply with the new land-use guidelines. Companies that have set emissions reduction targets with SBTi that are also within land-intensive sectors (e.g., food and forestry) or those with land-related emissions that contribute 20 percent or more of their overall emissions will now be required to set targets in accordance with the new standard.
When asked about the tangible practices that can be immediately implemented to slow emissions, Stevenson said: “The most important thing is to stop land use change. This is what we need most immediately to achieve a 1.5-degree increase in global temperatures. We have to do this rapidly.”
There's also a compelling business case for players in land-intensive sectors to account for their impacts and begin to reduce them. “This is the first time that the companies will be required to set targets from forestry and ag, but a lot of the practices are good for soil health anyway. A lot of the practices are win-wins," Stevenson said.
The new guidelines provide users with a number of mitigation pathways, most of which are related to deforestation. Additionally, companies are required to both reduce and remove carbon. The removals do not function as offsets, because the companies must also significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve their land-based carbon sinks. The guidance is not prescriptive of how a company removes and reduces carbon, but it does provide strict guidelines regarding how carbon removals can be counted. Stevenson noted that it is critical that carbon accounting is transparent and fair for farmers, foresters and other land-based business operators, and that their rights and opportunities are respected.
Through the new guidance, SBTi is providing land-intensive companies tools with which to implement climate-smart practices and offering these companies science-based pathways for cutting emissions to ensure that global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Mary Riddle is a writer and sustainability consultant based in Florence, Italy. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. Currently, she and her husband also own and operate Italy in Season, a subscription box company with a mission to support small-scale Italian artisans and traditional craftsmanship.