Reduction strategy: what goal should you aim for by 2030 and 2050?
Updated on May 2023
After taking stock of one’s emissions (see article “How to measure greenhouse gas emissions”), the second step consists of defining the goals that the company wants to set itself and the action plan to be implemented to achieve this ambition.
While this step may seem obvious, the risks of a lack of credibility here are still very real, given the climate emergency and the political and regulatory ambition involved. This article sets out the goals for an organisation, starting from the climate ambition at European, federal and regional level, and then detailing the key elements of a science-based reduction target.
Climate ambition at European, federal and regional level
It is crucial that every organisation reduces its emissions in line with the climate challenge. This is what has motivated governments to review their ambitions for 2030 and 2050.
At the European level, EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target from -40% to -55% by 2030 (compared to 19901) is in effect as the European Climate Law, in order to achieve climate neutrality for the Union by 2050. This legally binding target will be broken down into sub-targets for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and for each Member State for non-ETS sectors (effort sharing). The Commission presents a series of proposals to adapt the European legal framework to comply with these new targets.
At the federal level, the government has aligned itself with the European ambition (-55% by 2030).
At the regional level, the Walloon Region has already formally announced its ambition to achieve a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 (compared to 1990) and carbon neutrality by 2050. A citizens’ panel has recently been set up to formulate proposals to achieve these goals, alongside experts and administrations. The Flemish Region is aiming for an 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and has confirmed its ambition to move towards ‘total climate neutrality’. The Brussels-Capital Region has set itself the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (compared to 2005) and is committed to approaching the European objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Science-Based Targets (SBT)
The Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi), developed via a partnership between CDP, the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), sets out criteria to ensure that an emissions reduction target is aligned with keeping global warming well below 2°C or even below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To date, more than 1400 companies worldwide have engaged in this validation process, which is becoming the benchmark for any credible ambition.
In concrete terms, when a company wishes to set a Science-Based (SB) reduction target, the following steps should be taken:
- Check that the carbon footprint is GHG Protocol compliant and includes all sources of direct and indirect emissions from the company
- Sign the SBT commitment letter
- Develop the reduction target(s)
- Define the scope of the objectives
- Choose the targeted reduction path from the 1.5°C or “well below 2°C” scenarios
- Define the type(s) of reduction target(s) the company wishes to set for itself according to its sector and size, as well as the types of existing targets (absolute or expressed in economic or physical intensity) and quantify them
Below, we will detail three important resources among the various resources offered by the SBT initiative.
This is guidance proposed by SBT helps a company to set a reduction target aligned with science. In concrete terms, the criteria are defined on the basis of necessary reduction trajectories differentiated by sector.
Figure 1 : Sector-specific guidance. Source: CLIMACT based on Science Based Targets latest update in May 2021.
The company will then be free to determine the means to follow these trajectories. It should be noted that a minimum of indirect emissions (scope 3) should be taken into account and that SBTi does not accept carbon offsetting as a means of reducing emissions.
A few months ago, the Science-Based Targets initiative established a target validation procedure for SMEs (< 500 employees).
This pathway allows SMEs to avoid the initial step of committing to a scientific target and the regular target validation process, and to immediately set a robust target for their scope 1 and 2 emissions by choosing from a number of pre-defined target options. This approach provides a simplified, quick and accessible process for small companies.
Note that although indirect emissions (scope 3) do not have to be included in the SME’s validated reduction target, the company must still commit to measuring and reducing its scope 3 emissions.
SBT Net Zero
In parallel to reductions aligned with science, SBT has developed an international definition and framework for “net zero emissions” companies, in line with the 1.5°C scenario. The recommendations are key in corporate climate action.
Indeed, the corporate climate strategies communicated these days vary greatly in terms of methodology and semantics (“carbon neutrality”, “zero impact”, etc.). From a methodological point of view, different types of strategies can be distinguished:
- Strategies that focus solely on reducing direct and/or indirect emissions;
- Strategies that rely, in addition to reduction, on mechanisms to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere (through technical or natural means, within or outside the value chain);
- Strategies that rely, in addition to reduction (and possibly sequestration), on offsetting mechanisms (avoidance of emissions outside the value chain).
SBT clarifies the framework and ensure that companies’ zero-emission targets are translated into actions consistent with achieving a zero-emission world by 2050 by:
- Prioritizing rapid, deep emission reductions by setting near-term targets: Rapid, deep cuts to direct and indirect value-chain emissions are the most effective, scientifically-sound way of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
- Setting long-term targets: The Net-Zero Standard also requires companies to set long-term science-based targets to cut all possible emissions before 2050. Most companies must reduce emissions by more than 90%.
- Neutralizing residual emissions: After a company has achieved its long-term target and cut emissions by >90%, it must use permanent carbon removal and storage to counterbalance the final <10% of residual emissions that cannot be eliminated.
- Supporting climate finance beyond the value chain: The SBTi wants to incentivize and catalyze as much climate finance as possible from the private sector.
For more information, watch out for the next article “Net zero emissions – Beyond emissions reduction“.
CLIMACT, a member of the SBTi technical committee for the past five years, recommends that all companies aim for an SBT emissions trajectory, ideally Net Zero. The development of SBT reduction targets requires an excellent understanding of the issues, a long-term vision and support adapted to the context of each company. In line with our mission, we put our expertise at your disposal in a spirit of empowerment rather than just coaching.
1 Including the capture of emissions from forests and land use changes
2 Fit for 55 package
3 Regional Policy Statement 2019-2024 of each Region.
4 Science Based Target initiative – www.sciencebasedtargets.org
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