What are science-based targets and why do we use them?
Thomas Lingard, Unilever’s Global Director, Climate & Environment, on how Unilever’s sticking to the Paris Agreement
At current rates, man-made greenhouse gas emissions will increase average global temperatures by 4–6°C by the end of this century. Even if the pledges made at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 are honoured, it still leaves average surface temperatures on track to increase by more than three degrees, resulting in an unpredictable and unmanageable impact on climate change.
That’s why hundreds of businesses – including Unilever – are setting science-based targets, which aim to prevent the catastrophic damage that global warming could cause.
We spoke to Thomas Lingard, Unilever’s Global Director, Climate & Environment, to find out what science-based targets are, how we’re using them and why they’re good for business as well as the environment.
Science-based targets are greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that are informed by independent climate science.
These transparent targets ensure a company’s emissions are in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, reached in 2015 when 195 of the world’s governments committed to prevent the worst effects of catastrophic climate change by limiting average global temperature increases this century to well below two degrees Celsius. They also agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Of course, companies’ operations, and therefore emissions, take place within these countries. So setting high ambition targets at a company level helps governments to see the art of the possible, and sends a clear signal that businesses want to work with governments to achieve this stretching but necessary goal.
They focus purely on greenhouse gas emission reduction. The targets are based on current climate science and projections of what’s known as the ‘emissions budget’ – the emissions permitted that will keep climate change within the limits set by the Paris Agreement.
It means targets are led by science. It’s about doing what is necessary, not what is easy or convenient.
For the environment, science-based targets set long-term, consistent targets. They avoid the risk of a change in management or business priorities over-riding a company’s ambitions on climate change.
There are clear benefits for businesses too. Setting science-based targets is a powerful way for companies to boost their competitive advantage in the transition to a low-carbon economy by ensuring that they are not exposed to regulatory pressures of carbon prices which are expected to rise over time. They also add transparency and external credibility to internal sustainability goals.
Global temperature increase by 2100 if we don’t take action (based on current rates)
We have an approved science-based target to reduce our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions (those from our direct operations such as manufacturing and offices, and from the energy we use) by 100% by 2030, compared to our 2015 figures.
We also have a target in place to halve the greenhouse gas impact of our products across their lifecycle – including Scope 3 emissions (from suppliers and consumers) – by 2030, compared to our 2010 figures.
Science-based targets set the basis and guiding principles for all climate action strategy at Unilever. All our brands are covered by our overall targets, and some have also set themselves individual science-based targets that go beyond our overarching goals, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation and Pukka.
In addition to science-based targets, Unilever also has a carbon-positive target which includes using 100% renewable energy in our operations by 2030 and supporting the generation of more renewable energy than we consume, making the surplus available to the communities in which we operate. And as a member of The B Team, a global coalition to do business more sustainably, we have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 – a goal considered the gold standard within the science-based targets community.
Almost 500 companies have committed to taking science-based action on climate change.
The large number of companies who have committed to setting science-based targets shows a groundswell in climate ambition. These targets are ambitious, but if every business were to set science-based targets, we would have the confidence that we would be on track to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
companies taking science-based climate action
Targets are nice but action is what’s ultimately important. I hope that more companies will get on board to set science-based targets, and that in turn will lead to greater action on climate change.
There are many things we can do to make a difference.
Bicycle photo taken by Tinto Alencherry, Senior Research Executive, R&D Unilever Bangalore
Ice photo taken by Mauricio Jimenez, Hispanic Foods Brand Manager, Unilever USA