The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a collaborative effort between several organisations to encourage and assist businesses in setting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that are aligned with the scientific goals of the Paris Agreement.
The initiative provides a framework for companies to set ambitious and effective emission reduction goals that contribute to limiting global warming and addressing climate change.
Key features and components of the Science Based Targets initiative include:
Alignment with climate science: The primary objective of the SBTi is to ensure that the emission reduction targets set by companies are consistent with the latest climate science. This means that the targets are designed to contribute to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement's central aim.
Collaborative partnership: The initiative is a collaborative effort between four international non-governmental organizations: CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). These organisations work together to provide guidance, tools, and resources for businesses to develop science-based targets.
Validation and approval: The SBTi provides a defined process for companies to submit their emission reduction targets for validation. Targets are reviewed to ensure they meet the SBTi's criteria for scientific alignment. Once targets are approved, companies can publicly demonstrate their commitment to science-based goals.
Scope coverage: The SBTi covers both direct (Scope 1), indirect (Scope 2) and value chain (Scope 3) emissions. This comprehensive approach encourages companies to consider their entire value chain and influence beyond their immediate operations.
Sectors and industries: The SBTi offers sector-specific guidance to help companies set targets that are relevant and appropriate for their industry. Different sectors have different challenges and opportunities when it comes to emission reduction, and the initiative recognises these nuances.
Benefits: Companies that adopt science-based targets benefit from improved credibility, a clear roadmap for emissions reduction, and alignment with global climate goals. Investors, customers, and other stakeholders increasingly value companies that take meaningful action on climate change.
Continual improvement: The SBTi encourages companies to set long-term targets but also emphasises the importance of short- and medium-term milestones. This approach ensures that companies continue to make progress toward their ultimate goals.
By participating in the Science Based Targets initiative, companies demonstrate their commitment to responsible business practices, environmental stewardship, and addressing the urgent challenges of climate change. The initiative has gained significant traction since its inception and has contributed to a growing movement of businesses adopting science-based emission reduction strategies.
What are the different SBTi pathways?
The SBTi offers two main pathways for organisations to set Science Based Targets: the SBTi Reduction Pathway and the SBTi Net Zero Pathway. The SBTi Reduction Pathway focuses on absolute emission reduction targets across all scopes to align with specific temperature goals, while the SBTi Net Zero Pathway emphasises achieving net-zero emissions by balancing remaining emissions with removals.
Both pathways are designed to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement and contribute to limiting global warming. However, they differ in their approach and focus. The choice between the two pathways depends on an organisation's specific goals, capacity for emissions reduction and the broader sustainability strategy.
SBTi Reduction Pathway
Organisations that choose this pathway commit to reducing their absolute GHG emissions across their operational scopes to meet the specified temperature goals.
Different sectors have different starting points and challenges in emission reduction. The SBTi Reduction Pathway provides sectoral decarbonisation benchmarks that guide organisations in setting ambitious yet realistic targets.
SBTi Net Zero Pathway
The SBTi Net Zero Pathway is focused on achieving Net Zero emissions, which means that an organisation's residual GHG emissions are balanced by removing an equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere. This pathway aligns with the global push for achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century.
Similar to the Reduction Pathway, the Net Zero Pathway covers all operational scopes and aims to address the organisation's total carbon footprint. The SBTi’s Corporate Net-Zero Standard (also referred to as the ‘Net Zero Standard’) contains guidance, criteria and recommendations to support corporates in setting Net Zero targets.
How do Science Based Targets differ depending on organisation type?
Currently, companies in all sectors (apart from oil and gas) can set Science Based Targets, aligned with the SBTi criteria.
For some sectors or industries, separate sector-specific methodologies, frameworks and requirements have been developed. But if your sector is not yet listed, you should use our core methodologies and resources to set your targets.
In recognition of the important role that Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) play in global climate action, as well as the limited resources available to companies of this size, the SBTi has established a separate process for these companies with less than 500 employees. They can submit targets through a streamlined route which enables them to bypass the initial step of committing to set a science-based target and the regular target validation process. Instead, SMEs can immediately set near-term science-based targets for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and, optionally, Net Zero targets, by choosing from one of several predefined target options.
Step-by-step guide: How to set a Science Based Target
Setting a science-based carbon reduction target involves aligning your organisation's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals with the scientific objectives of the Paris Agreement.
1. Understand the climate science
Familiarise yourself with the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Understand the urgency of emission reduction and the role businesses play in achieving these goals.
2. Determine your emissions baseline
Identify the scope of emissions and business activities you will address. Collect accurate data on your organisation's current emissions - this data will serve as the starting point for setting reduction targets. Carbon accounting can be difficult, so utilise tools and software to help streamline the process and avoid errors.
3. Choose a target boundary and methodology
Decide whether your target will be based on absolute emissions reduction or intensity reduction (emissions per unit of production).
The SBTi provides several methodologies for setting science-based targets, so you can choose the one that aligns best with your organisation's industry and capabilities. These methodologies include:
Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach (SDA)
Alternative method that allows carbon-intensity metrics and targets to be derived from global mitigation pathways for some of the most carbon-intensive activities, such as road transportation, aviation, the generation of electricity or the production of basic materials.
One-size-fits-all method that ensures that companies setting targets deliver absolute emissions reductions in line with global decarbonisation pathways.
4. Establish Short-, Medium-, and Long-Term Targets
Utilise your chosen methodology to develop a reduction scenario that aligns with the Paris Agreement's temperature goals. This scenario should outline how your organisation's emissions will decrease over time.
Break down your reduction scenario into short-term (1-5 years), medium-term (6-10 years), and long-term (11-15 years) targets. These milestones provide a clear roadmap for your organisation's emission reduction journey.
It is important to check that your targets align with Science Based Targets criteria, for example Scope 3 must be included if it makes up over 40% of an organisation’s total emissions.
At this point, you must submit commitment letter to SBTi – it must include a near-term commitment (which is compulsory) and may include a long-term commitment (which is optional).
5. Develop a decarbonisation action plan
Create a detailed action plan outlining the strategies, initiatives and projects you will implement to achieve your targets. This plan should include specific measures for each scope of emissions.
Make sure to involve stakeholders across your organisation, including executives, employees, and relevant departments in the target-setting process. Collaboration and buy-in are essential for successful implementation.
6. SBTi Validation and approval
If you choose to pursue validation by the SBTi, you need to submit your reduction targets for review. This must be within 24 months of your commitment letter and targets must reach the criteria for the different Scopes.
Note that the submission will need information like:
Contacts, consultancy names and third-party assurance (if any)
Outline of your GHG inventory, including boundaries, optional Scope 3 categories, and any exclusions
A reporting plan, including base year recalculation and target review policies
Any supporting documents, such as calculations and other plans
The target validation service requires payment at this stage too (more information on this below).
The initiative will assess whether your targets are in line with the required criteria for scientific alignment. Target validation results are delivered within 30 business days, and 60 days for Net Zero.
7. Monitor and report decarbonisation progress
All validated targets are published on the SBTi website one month after approval, and reporting organisations must make their targets public within 6 months of their approval.
Regularly monitor your organisation's progress toward its reduction targets. Track key performance indicators and adjust your strategies as needed. SBTi requires transparent emissions and progress monitoring to be disclosed annually via a report, CDP reporting or on a dedicated website page.
8. Continuous improvement
As new data and technologies emerge, be prepared to adjust your targets and strategies to ensure that your organisation remains aligned with the latest scientific knowledge and industry trends. Utilising carbon accounting software helps keep decarbonisation targets up-to-date automatically and makes it easier to adjust interim goals.
Do you need help with setting Science Based Targets? Reach out to our expert team to see how our software takes the manual burden off you and ask any other questions about carbon accounting.
How much does validating a Science Based Target cost?
The SBTi offers a range of costed target validation services, some of which are outlined below:
Near-term science-based target validation: $9,500
Target updates for companies wishing to align their targets with our minimum ambition level of 1.5°C: $4,750
Net-zero target submissions: $9,500
Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) target submission: $7,500
Financial institution target submission: $14,500
Near-term science-based target submission for SMEs: $1,000
Net-zero target submission for SMEs: $1,000
Note that companies headquartered in developing countries with yearly revenue under $1 billion may be exempt from validation service fees.
Examples of Science Based Targets
Let’s take a look at some completely fabricated examples to give you an idea of what Science Based Targets look like in practice.
Required for Scope 1 against a 1.5 degree pathway, but optional for Scope 2 & 3.
“CompanyABC commits to reduce absolute Scope 1 GHG emissions 95% by 2040 from a 2022 base year”
Renewable electricity procurement target
Optional for Scope 2
For companies already sourcing 100% renewable electricity,
“CompanyABC commits to continue annually sourcing 100% renewable electricity through 2022”
For companies who have not yet achieved 100% renewable electricity,
“CompanyABC commits to increase annual sourcing of renewable electricity from 50% in 2022 to 100% by 2030”
Intensity target (economic or value added)
Optional for Scope 3
“CompanyABC commits to reduce Scope 3 GHG emissions by 90% per $ by 2040 from a 2022 base year”
Supplier and customer engagement target
Optional for Scope 3
“CompanyABC commits that 80% of its suppliers by spend, covering purchased goods and services, will have science-based targets by 2030”
Indirect use emissions target
Optional for Scope 3
CompanyABC also commits to reduce indirect use phase emissions 80% by 2040 from a 2022 base year.
To report progress against a Science Based Target, organisations should include the following information:
Substantial emission variations and changes in target
Actions towards meeting SBTs
GHG emissions inventory