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Businesses Ratchet Up Climate Action With Ambitious New Targets

Kelli Barrett

This week, efforts to mobilize more emissions reductions in the corporate world claimed a victory as the Science Based Targets initiative announced over 150 companies are in different stages of setting rigorous, science-based climate targets that align with the Paris Agreement, seeking to limit Earth’s warming to below the 2 degree point.

5 May 2016 | The ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s is committed to inventing new and colorful ice cream flavors, like Cake my Day and Chunky Monkey, but it made a different type of vow when it joined the Science Based Targets initiative and committed to serious emissions reductions that are grounded in hard climate data. And the famous ice cream parlor isn’t the only business setting these science based climate targets. Since nations signed the Paris Agreement and made a pact to keep global warming well below the 2 degree Celsius mark, 41 corporates have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, pledging to put their business operations in line with this worldwide effort.

They include Toyota Motor Corporation, the insulation and fiberglass company, Owens Corning, solar energy corporation SunPower and the European retailer Metro AG.

In total, more than 150 companies, headquartered all over the world, have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which is a partnership between CDP, the World Resources Institute (WRI), WWF and UN Global Compact. It’s meant to provide the technical resources companies need to set, and achieve, science-based emissions reduction targets.

“Committing to science based emission reduction targets is an important part of what draws us to reduce our own carbon footprint,” Andrea Asch, the Natural Resources Manager at Ben and Jerry’s, says. She adds that establishing such targets is ingrained in the company’s values and they now strive to act as a leader in this space, spurring other companies to address their environmental impact.

“There is no company excluded from the impact of climate change. We all are contributing and we all have a responsibility to be accountable for reducing our carbon footprint,” she says.

Asch zeros in on the emissions of agriculture, which for Ben and Jerry’s comes heavily from dairy farming. She says building sustainability within this supply chain involves deep engagement with partners throughout the chain-and that’s what the company is doing.

Frank O’Brien-Bernini, the Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Owens Corning says the Ohio-based business is also keen on partnerships with all stakeholders, throughout its supply chain, and its more recent collaboration with the Science Based Targets initiative opens up a new door of opportunity.

“Science based target methodology has provided a deeper understanding, resulting in a more aggressive challenge to further cut greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.

It embraces the “what must be done” thinking over the “what do we think we can do” mentality, O’Brien-Bernini says, which is necessary for solving today’s climate challenges.

The Need for SBTs

These science based targets are more difficult to achieve than traditional reduction objectives, Louisa O’Connell, an environmental consultant at the sustainability consultancy Carbon Clear, explained in a post. They’re top-down, long-term and more aggressive and challenging in nature, she wrote.

But they’re absolutely needed, Cynthia Cummis, WRI’s lead on the Science Based Targets initiative says.

“Without science as a basis for setting a target, how can we know that companies are doing enough to prevent the worst consequences of climate change,” she asks.

And corporate sustainability managers are echoing this logic with some appearing relieved to have target setting methods as it makes the internal decision making process easier. “Instead of spending time debating a target, the company can quickly figure out what the target needs to be and focus their efforts on designing a strategy to cost-effectively meet it,” she says.

Galya Tsonkova is one such manager that agrees with Cummis.

“In the past, companies would set targets without the necessary information or a solid point of reference. They would just pick a round figure and aim for cuts of 20, 30, 40%, with no further justification, other than generic aspirations,” Tsonkova, who is the Environment Manager for Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC), said in a statement. “Now, we have a target that is approved by external, credible experts, verified through relevant scientific methodology. That makes a big difference, both for external stakeholders, as well as to our management.”

Coca-Cola HBC is one of the 13 companies that have successfully developed science based targets. The Science Based Targets initiative considers the overall number of companies – 155 – that have developed targets, have targets under-review or are in the process of developing them, a major milestone.

“The enthusiasm companies have shown to setting ambitious climate targets is very encouraging,” Cummis said in an earlier news release. “Our technical reviewers cannot keep up with the number of targets being submitted. This is a great problem to have and a clear indication that the Paris Agreement was a turning point for climate action.”

As countries move to enforce the Paris Agreement, they will likely implement additional climate regulations and Cummis says they’re hearing from businesses that want to stay ahead of these rules.

The agreement also adds another layer of carbon risk, something investors are growing more wary of, and companies are setting targets to “future proof” their operations against this risk so as to not turn off potential or existing investors, Cummis says.

Act Now!

This breakthrough number of 155 is perfectly timed for the Climate Action 2016 multi-stakeholder summit in Washington D.C., a two-day event that begins May 5. Clearly focused on cross-sectoral engagement, the summit looks to build and enforce coalitions between government and business, among other spaces like academia and civil society.

Most importantly, though, these targets play a significant role in the world transitioning to a low carbon economy, the Science Based Targets initiative said in a statement. The targets from the 13 companies that experts have reviewed and approved are aligned with the decarbonization necessary to limit warming under 2 degrees Celsius. The reduced emissions combined from these companies are the equivalent to closing 250 coal-fired power plants for a year, according to the initiative. These corporates also have plans to increase their ambition and reduce emissions throughout their value chain.

Meanwhile, the initiative is in the process of reviewing targets from 45 of the companies signed-up while the rest are in various stages of developing targets. And this momentum isn’t based on having everything figured out.

“Do we have all the answers? Absolutely not,” says Asch. “But that shouldn’t keep us or any other company from making a commitment.”

Because, ready or not, the Paris Agreement set an expectation to decarbonize, and companies should align themselves with this reality, Cummis says.

“It’s in the interest of business leaders to act now,” she says.

Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and Editorial Assistant at Ecosystem Marketplace. She can be reached at kbarrett@ecosystemmarketplace.com. 

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