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SBTi’s New Paper on Setting Science-Based Net Zero Targets in the Corporate Sector

September 15, 2020 | Insights,

The recent SBTi net-zero “Foundations” paper
The SBTi net-zero “Foundations” paper provides recommendations and guiding principles to standardize corporate net zero targets to better align with the global transformation required to limit warming to 1.5 °C.

Anthesis executive Director Lisa Grice contributed to the paper and provides a summary here.

To meet the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed in 2018 that we must halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century. We are in the decisive decade where corporate action is paramount to achieve net zero global carbon emissions by 2050. As our understanding of net zero grows, so too has the number of companies with net zero commitments. According to Race to Zero, a quarter of global CO2 emissions are covered by net zero commitments by private actors. And yet, there is inconsistency in the corporate approach to achieve these targets, the metrics to measure them, and the timeline to reach them, and most notably there may be inconsistencies between how companies have defined net zero and the actions necessary to reach net zero on a global level.

Learn more about Net Zero from Anthesis

The recent SBTi net-zero “Foundations” paper provides recommendations and guiding principles to standardize corporate net zero targets to better align with the global transformation required to limit warming to 1.5 °C. The paper serves to present the foundations upon which SBTi intends to build a stakeholder engagement process to establish detailed criteria and guidance for corporate net-zero targets. As the full paper from SBTi is lengthy and in-depth, we’ve provided a brief synopsis with key points. Visit SBTi’s paper for the full context and detailed descriptions around this summary.

Three Principles for Corporate Net zero Targets

SBTi’s paper outlines three principles for corporate net zero targets to align with global climate goals and drive success in the net zero economy.

  • Principle 1: Reaching net-zero emissions for a company involves achieving a state in which its value chain results in no net accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in no net-impact from other greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Principle 2: In accordance with the best available science, the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, companies should transition towards net-zero in line with mitigation pathways that are consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot.
  • Principle 3: The mitigation strategy followed by the company should inform long-term strategies and investments that mitigate exposure to climate-related transition risks, ensuring that the business model of the company will continue to be viable in a net-zero economy.

10 Recommendations for companies setting net zero targets:

  1. Boundary
  2. Transparency
  3. Abatement
  4. Timeframe
  5. Accountability
  6. Neutralization
  7. Compensation
  8. Mitigation
  9. Environmental & Social Safeguards
  10. Robustness

Tactics to put these Principles into Practice

SBTi translated these guiding principles into 10 initial recommendations for companies setting net zero targets.

  1. Boundary: A company’s net-zero target should cover all material sources of GHG emissions within its value chain.
  2. Transparency: Companies should be transparent about the sources of emissions included and excluded from the target boundary, the timeframe for achieving net-zero emissions, the amount of abatement and neutralization planned in reaching net-zero emissions, and any interim targets or milestones.
  3. Abatement: Companies must aim to eliminate sources of emissions within its value-chain at a pace and scale consistent with mitigation pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot. During a company’s transition to net zero, compensation and neutralization measures may supplement, but not substitute, reducing value chain emissions in line with science. At the time that net zero is reached, emissions that are not feasible for society to abate may be neutralized with equivalent measure of CO2 removals.
  4. Timeframe: Companies should reach net-zero GHG emissions by no later than 2050. While earlier target years are encouraged, a more ambitious timeframe should not come at the expense of the level of abatement in the target.
  5. Accountability: Long-term net-zero targets should be supported by interim science-based emission reduction targets to drive action within timeframes that are aligned with corporate planning and investment cycles and to ensure emission reductions that are consistent with Paris-aligned mitigation pathways.

6.Neutralization: Reaching net-zero emissions requires neutralizing a company’s residual GHG emissions with an equivalent amount of carbon removals. An effective neutralization strategy involves removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it for a long-enough period to fully neutralize the impact of any GHG that continues to be released into the atmosphere.

7. Compensation: While reaching a balance between emissions and removals is the end goal of a net zero journey, companies should consider undertaking efforts to compensate unabated emissions in the transition to net-zero as a way to contribute to the global transition to net-zero.

8. Mitigation hierarchy: Companies should follow a mitigation hierarchy that prioritizes eliminating sources of emissions within the value chain of the company over compensation or neutralization measures. Land-based climate strategies should prioritize interventions that help preserve and enhance existing terrestrial carbon stocks, within and beyond the value chain of the company.

9. Environmental and social safeguards: Mitigation strategies should adhere to robust social and environmental principles, ensuring amongst others, protection and/or restoration of naturally occurring ecosystems, robust social safeguards, and protection of biodiversity, amongst others.

10. Robustness: Compensation and neutralization measures should: (a) ensure additionality, (b) have measures to assure permanence of the mitigation outcomes, (c) address leakage and (d) avoid double counting.

Anthesis is constantly excited and honored to be working with companies seeking to define the front line on combating climate change. SBTi’s work is critical for helping companies to align their net zero aspirations with the reductions that science dictates are required to mitigate the worst human, economic, environmental impacts of climate change.

Lisa Grice
Executive Director, Anthesis

What’s next for science-based net-zero targets?

Following publication of this paper, the SBTi intends to develop the following outputs following a robust and transparent process:

  • Criteria for the formulation of science-based net-zero targets in the corporate sector;
  • A validation protocol to assess net-zero targets against the set of criteria to be developed as part of this process;
  • Detailed guidance for science-based net-zero target setting in the corporate sector, including guidance for credible claims.

As the corporate community increasingly takes net zero targets into consideration, a standardized approach in the corporate sector will help all actors better understand how the targets contribute to our global carbon emission goals. Look out for more guidance and technical resources from Anthesis on the process of setting and reaching corporate science-based net zero targets.

Additional Resources

— Visit our dedicated SBT resources page to learn how to set and reach a Science Based Target.
— Listen to our net zero podcast series for a discussion of the key challenges and topics on the net zero journey.

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