Part of our 4-part net zero series
It is all about keeping 1.5°C alive. By this we mean stopping the average global temperature from increasing by more than 1.5°C.
Globally this equates to reducing emissions by 45% by 2030 and reaching net zero no later than 2050 from levels in 2010. Over the course of this insight, we will set out what this means for companies and how they can help to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. For more information on the significance of, and the science behind 1.5°C please, see our first insight in the net zero series.
Is it too late for 1.5°C?
The notion of keeping average global temperature increase below 1.5°C (from pre-industrial levels) is a concept that came out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The worrying thing is, that in February 2024 in Europe, we exceeded this 1.5°C warming limit over a 12-month period. This is the first time on record that this has happened. Does this mean that it is already too late?
The good news is that the 1.5°C threshold is a temperature average, measured globally over decades, which means we still have time to limit warming and keep within the parameters set out in Paris. However, we must rapidly accelerate action. For more information on this please read our is it too late for 1.5°C insight.
Aligning to the science, keeping within 1.5°C
As more companies join the journey to net zero, it is more important than ever that their targets are robust, credible and in line with the science. The good news is that there is plenty of guidance out there to help you set a 1.5°C aligned target. However, as more and more guidance is released, it can become difficult to navigate. This insight aims to outline, the key requirements to ensure your net-zero target is set at the right level of ambition. It is important to note that the guidance will vary from sector to sector.
There are three overarching requirements from The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) when considering a net-zero target:
1. Set near- and long-term targets.
• Near-term targets must be 5-10 from your base year. It is advised, as best practice, to use your most recent year as your base year.
• Long-term targets must achieve a minimum of 90% absolute reduction on or before 2050.
• Both near- and long-term targets must be consistent with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperatures below 1.5C.
In addition to near- and long-term targets covering your scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, companies can set additional targets covering the following areas:
• Supplier and customer engagement (working with suppliers and customers to set their own net-zero targets)
• Renewable electricity (e.g. 80% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% by 2030)
Forestry, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) Targets
For companies with land intensive activities in their value chain they must now set separate targets for their FLAG emissions. These targets can be at a sector or a commodity level and must result in a 72% reduction in FLAG emissions in line with your long-term net zero date (i.e. on or before 2050). There are also other requirements, such as zero deforestation by 2025 across primary deforestation-linked commodities. For more information on FLAG emission please see our insight here.
2. Focus on rapid, deep emissions cuts.
In order to meet the scale and pace required to reduce emissions in line with the science, SBTi require a focus on immediate decarbonisation. This means that organisations cannot wait until 2049 to reduce their emissions by 90% in order to hit their 2050 target.
Scope 1 and 2 emissions must reduce at a rate of 4.2% linear reduction year on year in the short term. This needs to be absolute reductions, not just intensity. Over the long term emissions must reduce by 90% or more.
When it comes to scope 3 reduction, these emissions must reduce at a rate of 7% year on year in emissions intensity in the short term. Over the long term these must result in an absolute reduction of 90% and an intensity reduction of 97%. These are challenging and stretching targets!
3. No net zero claims until long term targets are met.
Unlike with carbon neutral, net zero cannot be claimed until the required reduction in emissions have been achieved and targets have been met. Then, and only then, can an organisation claim to achieve net zero. That is why net-zero target dates are often set out over decades (e.g. net zero by 2040), whereas there are many organisations now who are claiming carbon neutrality without making any significant reductions in their carbon footprint.
4. Go beyond the value chain.
Essentially this aspect of a net-zero target is why it is a net zero, and not an absolute zero target. SBTi recognises that it is impossible to eliminate 100% of emissions in an organisation and its supply chain and therefore the guidance allows for some “offsetting” of residual emission. Unfortunately, but importantly, it is not a simple case of offsetting any remaining emissions as SBTi include additional requirements to not only look at carbon sequestration, but also other factors such as social impact. Perhaps the topic for a future insight!
The use of offsets must not be counted as emissions reduction towards the progress of a companies’ science-based target. These can only be used to finance additional emission reductions beyond their science-based target.
Not as simple as you were hoping!
Whilst we hate to over complicate things, there is a lot that sits behind a simple notion such a Net Zero. Approaches to setting a target will be different for every organisation. Our role at Simply Sustainable is help you understand the most plausible path for your organisation to reach net zero, whilst ensuring that your level of ambition is in line with the science on climate change.
If you want to talk to us about how we can help, please get in touch with Henry, our Head of Climate and Carbon.
Net zero is a vast topic and one that is impossible to cover in any depth in just one insight. Please see other net zero insights from the series:
• Part 1: What is net zero and why is it important?
• Part 2: How to approach setting a net-zero target (baseline carbon footprinting and understanding)
• Ensuring your target is robust, ambitious and in line with the science on climate change
Our final insight in the series will cover:
• Validating your target through SBTi and integrating and communicating your net-zero target
Additional guidance, links and tools
The best guidance and tools come from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). SBTi are the global authority on net zero. They have developed sector specific guidance and requirements for many companies to follow when setting a net-zero target including a target setting tool and a net-zero tool. However, as more and more guidance is released it can become challenge to wade your way through it all, and that is where our Climate and Carbon Team comes in to help!
Author: Henry Unwin, Head of Climate and Carbon, Simply Sustainable
The notion of keeping the average global temperature increase below 1.5°C (from pre-industrial levels) is a concept that came out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This agreement sought to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century. In the following years, the science has shown that the target threshold needs to be 1.5, not 2°C.
The worrying thing is, as we write this insight in early February 2024, we have exceeded this 1.5°C warming limit over a 12-month period. This is the first time on record that this has happened and comes from data collected by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Surely now it is too late? Have we not already breached this important target and tipping point?
Over the last few years, we have already seen the devastating impact of this warming and the effects it is having on our planet. The warning signs are clear, and the planet’s hazard lights are flashing. Nevertheless, the science is showing that we have not yet permanently breached the crucial 1.5°C threshold. This threshold is a temperature average, measured globally over decades. The Paris Agreement aims to keep the world below this threshold, by the end of the century. It is still possible, but the lack of momentum, progress, and urgency on climate action means that the target is slipping away from us, faster than we thought.
Some scientists are saying that it is too late, others argue that we still have time, but it will take radical transformations in our approach to decarbonisation. Even if it is too late for 1.5°C, we cannot stop taking action. The impact becomes exponential as average global temperatures increase. We reach tipping points and trigger feedback loops caused by warming (e.g. melting of arctic tundra) which release more greenhouse gasses and trigger more warming!
We do still have time, and we must act now to stop runaway global warming. Credible and robust climate targets, aligned to the science and backed up by rapid actions to decarbonise are vital. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) give companies the tools and the guidance to set 1.5°C aligned net-zero targets. If more governments and companies set and meet these targets we are still in with a chance of keeping 1.5°C alive. But we must act now and businesses need to understand their responsibilities.
Our dedicated Climate and Carbon Team at Simply Sustainable has decades of collective experience in interpreting the science on climate change and supporting companies to create the targets and actions needed to be part of the climate solution, not the crisis.
Author: Henry Unwin, Head of Climate and Carbon, Simply Sustainable
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