Science-based climate targets are getting real results

For years, companies would announce plans to cut emissions using goals that seemed to be picked more because they were round numbers. In 2015, an initiative started to have companies use “science-based targets,” which were designed to lower emissions at rates needed to curb global warming. But while many companies signed up, it wasn’t clear how quickly they would take action. Similar goals haven’t always worked well—more than 150 companies pledged to end deforestation by 2020 and then failed to meet that goal. But a new analysis suggests that the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is working.

The initiative, run by a group of environmental nonprofits, works with companies to validate their targets to cut emissions in line with what climate science says is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The new analysis looked at 338 companies that set pledges in 2015, from H&M to General Mills to Unilever, and the emissions data those companies report to CDP, a nonprofit that tracks environmental reporting. Since 2015, participating companies have managed to cut their combined emissions by 25{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1}. The median companies on the list have been cutting emissions by 6.4{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} each year so far, which is actually faster than what’s necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We frankly didn’t really know what we were going to find when we started to study this,” says Alexander Farsan, the global lead on science-based targets at the World Wildlife Fund, one of the partners in the Science Based Targets initiative. “It was great to see that the companies that have joined the SBTi are making the reductions that are necessary, and in stark contrast to what’s happening at a global level, are already on pace to reduce their emissions dramatically.”

The number of participants making pledges under the platform is growing, with hundreds of new companies joining in 2020, including Amazon, Facebook, and Ford. More than 1,000 companies have now either pledged to set targets or have set approved targets.

It’s possible that it could become more challenging for some companies to keep up their initial pace of slashing emissions over time if they’ve started with easier changes like improving efficiency or shifting to renewable energy. “Some technology has to become more mature,” Farsan says. “So it’s certainly true that until we fully decarbonize, some of it is going to become harder and harder. But generally speaking, for most companies, I think there are pretty clear pathways to emission reductions.”

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