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Heads on a Science Apart – Science Based Targets
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Heads on a Science Apart – Science Based Targets

By Apurva Gosalia - Nov 12, 2021

The Scientist” is one of my favourite songs by the British rock band Coldplay. The song is a ballad about a man’s desire to love and an apology. When asked about writing the song, the lead singer Chris Martin said: “It’s weird that whatever else is on your mind, whether it’s the downfall of global economics or terrible environmental troubles, the thing that always gets you most is when you fancy someone.”

The song came on the radio this morning while my family and I had our breakfast. Like the character in the song, my mind also wandered but in the opposite direction toward the current environmental troubles instead.

I had already decided to write today’s post about the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and its launch of the world’s first net-zero corporate standard two weeks ago. Essentially, it becomes the first science-based certification of a company’s net-zero targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping planetary warming to 1.5°C. I said to myself: “What a cosmic significance!”

The synchronicity became even more apparent when I began to connect the song’s lyrics to the challenges faced by companies to calculate, cutdown and compensate their greenhouse gas emissions. I call this approach the “Three Cs” – the strategic triad of decarbonization to reach climate neutrality. But more on that later.

The Science Based Targets are exactly what they say they are. To use an Britishism – they do exactly what they say on the tin! They are reduction targets for relevant greenhouse gas emissions calculated on a scientific basis in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement’s 2 degrees Celsius target. Accordingly, the 197 signatory states have agreed to reduce global warming to below 2 C by 2050 (if possible 1.5 C) with pre-industrial times.

Science Based Targets “provide a clearly-defined pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping prevent the worst impacts of climate change and future-proof business growth.” They were created in mid-2015 by the SBTi.

> Read more about the Science Based Targets Initiative here.

The news is awash with companies exclaiming their net-zero targets. The SBTi says that these commitments now cover 80% of global GDP reaching this target by 2050. The SBTi argues that these goals are inconsistent and give rise to scepticism around their credibility, particularly when traditional oil companies jump into the fray.

The SBTi’s response was this year’s launch on Oct. 28 of the Net-Zero Standard, developed with an independent expert advisory group of academics, members of civil society, scientists and businesspeople. The standard clarifies that its science-based net-zero “requires companies to achieve deep decarbonization of 90-95% before 2050.” Thereafter, a company must neutralize residual emissions that are as yet impossible to cut.

There are now clear parameters that these residual emissions “must be neutralized through carbon removals” and “cannot exceed 5-10% of a company’s emissions depending on its sector,” according to the SBTi. Neutralization can be technological, such as direct air capture with geological storage, or nature based, such as reforestation.

The SBTi says: “The principle at the heart of the SBTi Net-Zero Standard is the ‘mitigation hierarchy.’ This means companies should address value chain emissions and implement strategies to achieve these targets as the main strategy to reach net-zero emissions.”

This, I think, will be challenging for most companies in the present, but it has even been more challenging –and a kind of “black box” to them – in the past when the standard didn’t exist. This brings me back to some of the lyrics in the “The Scientist”.

In the past, when there was no Net-Zero Standard, companies were “Running in circles” and “Guessing at numbers and figures”. There were “Questions of science and progress” and “No one ever said it would be this hard”!

Now in the present we have the Net-Zero Standard, “Nobody said it was easy.” It’s like “Pulling the puzzles apart.” So, “Ask me your questions” and we’ll call “Heads on a science apart!”

If you are running in circles, you are confused and not getting anywhere. But with the standard being in place now, I believe that it’s heads we win with “a science apart.” The risk was all determined by science, and now Science Based Targets must be the solution.


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