Companies and governments are taking more action than ever before to do their parts to tackle the climate emergency, but the volume and variation of tools for achieving that change can be daunting. IEMA's Digital Journalist Tom Pashby reports.

One tool which has emerged as a key player in recent years is the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), an organisation that provides SMEs and major corporates with guidance on how to achieve net zero according to the IPCC.

The SBTi also provides voluntary accountability, whereby companies can declare their emissions reduction targets in public on the SBTI’s platform, and can be struck off if they fail to meet their objectives, such as Amazon which was listed as having an ‘expired commitment’.

Maria Outters, chief impact officer at SBTi, said: “It’s imperative we take collective action now to halve emissions by 2030 - in the next 7 years - and achieve net zero before 2050. We can only avoid complete climate breakdown if companies and financial institutions significantly cut emissions. Businesses need to go further and faster than ever before, delivering transformational change.”

Companies are increasingly searching for reliable methodologies for achieving the emissions reductions that their customers, clients, staff, senior leadership teams, and shareholders are demanding. This can feel overwhelming given the complexity of even individual companies' carbon emissions portfolios, plus the variety of routes to decarbonisation.

Maria pointed to a report by the We Mean Business Coalition which found that 41 percent of business leaders admitted that their lack of knowledge of the best approaches was the top reason why their organisations were failing to meet their emissions targets. Maria said, “This is where the SBTi comes in.”

And she is right to be confident about the position that SBTi has established for itself. She said, “We’ve experienced a period of exponential growth in recent years. Over a third of the global economy, by market capitalization, now has science-based targets or has committed to setting them. This includes targets having been set by 69 percent of FTSE companies.”

Many members of the IEMA community have registered commitments or set targets with the SBTi, including 2 Sisters Food Group, Costain Group Plc, Hays and South Western Railway.

Amy Dickinson, Head of Sustainability at South Western Railway, said: “In 2019, SWR emitted as much carbon as the city of Newcastle, once our supply chain is taken into account. This makes clear the scale of the challenge, but also the opportunity we have to be better for our planet.

“I’m thrilled that the climate science experts at the Science Based Targets initiative have approved and praised the bold ambition of our carbon reduction targets, confirming that they are in line with keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

“We are the first train operator in the UK to have our targets endorsed, which is a reflection of our determination to be industry leaders in sustainability for the long term.”

In a statement, SWR said that its targets were “the most ambitious designation available through the SBTi process,” and said that the targets “are in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as called for in the Paris Agreement.”

Maria at SBTi reflected on its growth, saying “We have validated more than 3,250 companies and financial institutions science-based targets, across every continent (bar Antarctica!)” and expressed the organisation's bold ambitions, saying “We’re targeting a total of 10,000 companies with validated targets or commitments to set targets and a total of 5GT of GHG emissions by 2025.”

This aligns with the impression that businesses wouldn’t have moved on climate if it wasn’t for consumer and shareholder pressure and that it has been kept neatly in the realm of activism with a number of cutting-edge companies trying to benefit from the shift to environmentally friendly consumerism.

Maria said, “Our mission is to make science-based targets “business as usual” for all and we would encourage and welcome support from businesses, governments, and industry associations alike in making that ambition a reality.”

SBTi may have cracked the code by acting as a catalyst between shareholders demanding more ambitious climate action from corporates, and the business leaders who now find themselves needing the right tools and guidance for the transition.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.