Set a science-based target

What is the definition of a science based target?

The Science Based Targets initiative defines a science-based target as follows:

Targets adopted by companies to reduce GHG emissions are considered “science-based” if they are in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures, as described in the Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [Applies to the 4th or 5th AR of IPCC as well as modeling of the IEA.]

What is the Science Based Targets initiative?

The Science Based Targets initiative champions science-based target setting as a powerful way of boosting companies’ competitive advantage in the transition to the low-carbon economy. It is a collaboration between CDP, World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). It is one of the We Mean Business Coalition commitments.

The initiative:

  1. Showcases companies that set science-based targets through case studies, events and media to highlight the increased innovation, reduced regulatory uncertainty, strengthened investor confidence and improved profitability and competitiveness generated by science-based target setting.

  2. Defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting with the support of a Technical Advisory Group

  3. Offers resources, workshops and guidance to reduce barriers to adoption

  4. Independently assesses and approves companies’ targets .

What are the objectives of the initiative?

Science-based target setting will become standard practice and corporations will be contributing significantly to closing the emissions gap. The initiative develops guidance, tools, and technical assistance to facilitate the adoption of science-based targets and incentivise companies to set meaningful targets.


  1. By 2020, at least 300 high-impact companies, representing at least 2 GT of emissions, will have science-based emission reduction targets in place.

  2. By 2018, at least 300 high-impact companies, representing at least 2 GT of emissions, will have committed to adopt science-based GHG emission reduction targets and more than 100 of these companies will have approved science-based targets.

  3. Science-based target setting will be embedded in key mechanisms and platforms that lead to the widespread and sustained adoption of GHG emission reduction targets in line with science as a standard business practice in priority regions and sectors.

  4. In support of the Paris Agreement, science-based targets from leading companies demonstrate to policy-makers the scale of emission reductions that are achievable to positively influence international climate negotiations and domestic climate policy.

What are the benefits of setting a science based target?

Reducing GHG emissions protects our climate and our communities – and it’s also good for business. The transition to a low-carbon economy is underway and accelerating globally. Every sector in every market will be transformed. Get on track now for low-carbon and future-proof growth by setting a science-based target to:

1. Increase innovation.
The transition to a low-carbon economy will catalyze the development of new technologies and operational practices. The companies that set ambitious targets now will lead innovation and transformation tomorrow.

2. Reduce regulatory uncertainty.
Taking ambitious action now helps companies stay ahead of future policies and regulations to limit GHG emissions. Companies that are seen as leaders are better able to influence policy makers and help shape developing legislation.

3. Strengthen investor confidence and credibility.
Companies taking a leadership position on climate bolster their credibility and reputation among stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, policy makers and environmental groups. Approximately half of consumers worldwide believe climate change will have a negative effect on their own lives, and 65 per cent agree that human activity is responsible for climate change.

4. Improve profitability and competitiveness.
Setting ambitious targets now ensures a lean, efficient, and durable company in a future where resources become increasingly more expensive – particularly resources derived from fossil fuels. Rising prices of raw materials can mean the difference between profit and loss.

About the Science Based Targets initiative's Call to Action

How can companies join the Science Based Targets initiatives' Call to Action?

Companies can join the initiative and demonstrate their climate leadership by completing the following four steps:

Step 1. Commit.

Signing the Commitment Letter indicates that your company will work to set a science-based emission reduction target. If your company already has an emissions reduction target, the letter confirms your interest in joining the initiative and having your existing target independently verified against a set of science-based criteria. After submitting your commitment letter to [email protected] , your company will be recognised as “Committed” on the website as well as on our partner websites.

Step 2. Develop a target.

Once your company has signed the commitment letter you will have up to 24 months to develop a science-based target. We encourage sustainability professionals to be in contact with the Science Based Targets initiative to informally test the target before securing final executive sign off.

Step 3. Submit your target for validation.

Once a target has been developed, your company must complete the [email protected] We highly recommend you review the target submission form guidance before completing the form. The Science Based Targets team will then verify the target against the SBTi criteria and inform you whether the target has been formally approved or if it needs additional work.

Step 4. Announce the target.

On confirmation that your target meets the SBTi criteria your company and its target will be showcased on the Science Based Targets initiative website as well as on our partner websites. For more information on each one of these steps, please refer to the Call to Action Guidelines

I work for an small or medium sized enterprise. Can my company join the Call to Action?

Yes, the Science Based Targets initiative does not have a restriction on the size of the companies that can join and any company, regardless of size, can set a science-based target. However, in order for a company to successfully set a science-based target a recent, comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory will be required.

Can financial institutions join the Call to Action?

The initiative defines a financial institution as one that engages in investment activities as part of its core functions. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Asset management/asset owners

  2. Retail and commercial banking activities

  3. Insurance companies (when functioning asset managers)

  4. Mortgage real estate investment trusts (REITs)

    In addition, if at least 5% of a company’s revenue comes from activities such as those described above, they would also be considered a financial institution. The financial sector’s largest impact comes from its investment and lending activities (known as scope 3 emissions) and therefore it is imperative that targets for this sector encompass such activities. However, the method for assessing financial institutions’ scope 3 impacts against a well below-2°C emissions trajectory is still being developed. Therefore we cannot yet review or approve any targets submitted by financial institutions. In the interim:

    1. We invite such institutions to publicly commit to setting science-based scope 1, 2 and 3 targets when a methodology is available by signing the commitment letter. After submitting your commitment letter to [email protected] , your company will be recognized as “committed” at as well as on our partners’ websites at We Mean Business and CDP.

    2. We will also invite all committed financial institutions to participate in any process to develop target setting methods for the sector. Once a target setting method is finalized, all committed financial institutions will be notified and asked to submit their targets for validation within two years.

    Note: If a company falls under the definition above but does not consider their investment activities significant/relevant for the purposes of science-based target setting, the company should provide an explanation in its

    How does the Science Based Targets initiative's Call to Action relate to the We Mean Business Commit to Action Campaign?

    The We Mean Business Coalition and CDP are offering companies a platform to act and be recognised through several initiatives, including science-based targets. By default companies that commit to the Science Based Targets initiative’s count toward the We Mean Business campaign (though they may opt out if they choose). However, companies that have committed to set science-based targets through We Mean Business must agree to the additional criteria required by the Science Based Targets initiative by signing the commitment letter. Through the We Mean Business campaign, companies can also commit to any or all of the following in addition to science-based targets:

    1. procure 100% of electricity from renewable sources (RE100)

    2. remove commodity-driven deforestation from all supply chains

    3. report climate change information in mainstream reports as a fiduciary duty

    4. responsible engagement in climate policy

    5. put a price on carbon

    6. reduce short-lived climate pollutant emission

If I make the WMB commitment do I still need to set a target within two years?

Companies who commit through We Mean Business also need to set a target within 24 months of committing and the same criteria for approving a target applies.

Develop a science-based target

Which guidance documents can help me to set a science based target?

Please refer to the Science Based Targets initiative's Call to Action Guidelinesfor a detailed list of resources available.

Refer to the SBTi Criteria and recommendations to know which guidelines your targets must meet to be approved as science-based. In addition, you can review our , which provides a detailed explanation of the different approaches and methodologies available, as well as recommendations for setting science-based targets. To obtain specific information on the different methodologies, including tools available, visit our website’s methods section. You can also refer to our case studies page, where we highlight companies’ experiences with setting science-based targets. The case studies explain how companies got internal buy-in to set the targets, the benefits and some of the innovations that are helping them achieve their goals. Finally, visit our events page to find previous and future events (including their recordings in some cases) related to this topic.

Should my company set absolute or intensity targets?

Intensity targets are only eligible when they lead to absolute emission reduction targets in line with climate scenarios for keeping warming to within 2°C or when they are modelled using an approved sector pathway or method by the Science Based Targets initiative (e.g. the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach).

Are you able to provide some guidance on how to set a Scope 3?

To be approved by the initiative, Scope 3 targets must meet the Scope 3 eligibility criteria. Although current science-based target setting methods were developed for Scope 1 and 2 only, the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) recommends that companies use those methods to inform their Scope 3 targets, whenever possible. Additional information on how to adapt those methods to Scope 3 targets can be found in Section 3.2.2 “Setting scope 3 targets” (p.48) of our draft Science Based Target Setting Manual. We also recommend that companies look at the Scope 3 targets already approved by the initiative, available on our webpage Companies Taking Action..

How does the Science Based Target initiative decide if a target is science based? Which criteria must targets meet to be approved by the initiative?

To determine if a target is science-based, our technical team performs a thorough review and assesses all submitted targets against our eligibility criteria. The eligibility criteria can be found here.

Eligibility criteria

What are the emissions scopes?

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol categorises direct and indirect emissions into three broad scopes:

  1. Scope 1: Direct GHG emissions occur from sources that are owned or controlled by the company, for example, emissions from combustion in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles, etc.; emissions from chemical production in owned or controlled process equipment.

  2. Scope 2: Indirect greenhouse gas emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.

  3. Scope 3: Other indirect emissions, such as the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels, transport-related activities in vehicles not owned or controlled by the reporting entity, electricity-related activities (e.g. T&D losses) not covered in Scope 2, outsourced activities, waste disposal, etc. For specific guidance on what to include in Scope 3, please refer to GHG Protocol Scope 3 Guidance

  4. For additional guidance on what to include in each scope, please refer to the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard.

What constitutes as company-wide scope 1 and 2 emissions?

The company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory boundaries should be in accordance with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. It must include all relevant GHGs as required per the GHG Protocol. Companies may exclude up to 5% of scope 1 and scope 2 emissions in their inventory and target.

Are combined scope targets accepted?

Targets that combine scopes (e.g. 1+2 or 1+2+3) are permitted. For example, in a target where there is a 30% absolute emissions reduction applied to scopes 1+2 combined from 2010 to 2030, the 30% reduction can come from scope 1 and 2 or only from one of the scopes. In the latter case, the company has to compensate for the other scope. That means, if each scope is 100 gt CO2 eq (200 gt CO2 for S1+S2 total) and the company wants to reduce its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 30% through reducing only one scope, then that scope emissions have to be reduced by 60 gt CO2eq. In addition, please note that when a company has a combined scope 1, 2, and 3 target the scope 1 and 2 portion of the target but be in line with climate science.

Regarding the timeframe criterion to have the target end within a minimum of 5 years and maximum of 15 years from the date of the announcement of the target, what is defined as the announcement of the target?

All targets must cover a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years from the date the target is submitted to the Science Based Targets initiative for an official check.

Please note that only targets submitted in the first half of a calendar year can include that year toward the 5-year minimum. For example, companies submitting a target by the end of June 2016 can have a target year between 2020 and 2030. Targets submitted July to December 2016 must have a target year between 2021 and 2031. If the target is slightly shorter or longer than this period, the Steering Committee may allow it.

Where should the company disclose its greenhouse gas emissions inventory and progress against their targets on an annual basis?

There are no specific requirements on where the inventory should be disclosed, as long as it is public. Recommendations include annual reports, sustainability reports, the company’s website, and/or CDP’s annual questionnaire.

How should the company report any significant changes in growth projections and other assumptions used with the science based target setting methodologies and significant changes to its business or data and emissions factors used in its inventory process?

The company should notify any member of the Science Based Targets initiative of any significant changes. It is also recommended to report these major changes publicly, as relevant.

Do offsets count towards science based targets?

The use of offsets is not counted as reductions toward the progress of companies’ science-based targets. The SBTi requires that companies set targets based on emission reductions through direct action within their own boundaries or their value chains. Offsets are only considered to be an option for companies wanting to contribute to finance additional emission reductions beyond their science-based target/net-zero.

Scoring Science Based Targets in CDPs 2017 Climate Change questionnaire

Where can I find resources related to science-based targets scoring CDP's 2017 climate change questionnaire?

Companies should refer to CDP’s 2017 Technical Note on science-based targets which will provide them with guidance on science-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in CDP’s 2017 climate change questionnaire as well as with a summary of the steps they should undertake in order to obtain points with science-based targets.

Further guidance can be obtained by looking at questions CC3.1a and CC3.1b in the following resources: CDP’s 2017 climate change questionnaire CDP’s 2017 climate change scoring methodology CDP’s 2017 climate change guidance

How are science-based targets scored?

Please refer to Chapter 2 ‘How science-based targets are scored in the 2017 climate change questionnaire‘(p.3) of CDP’s 2017 Technical Note on science-based targets.


Please refer to section 2.2 ‘Leadership level points’ (p. 5) of CDP’s 2017 Technical Note on science-based targets.


CDP aims to minimise the reporting burden on companies, in part by reducing changes to the questionnaire from year to year. At the same time, CDP must collect enough information to assess the appropriateness of thousands of company targets. The questions in the climate change questionnaire balance the dynamics of these two contrasting principles. As a result, CDP is unable to collect the type and amount of information necessary to determine if a target is science-based. This reflects a difference in the applications of best practices rather than the principles behind the best practices themselves.


For a target validation to count for CDP scoring, be sure to tick the box that says official check/validation in the target submission from and to send the form to [email protected] by 23:59 UTC-12 April 15, 2017. Missing or disorganised information may cause delays in the target review process potentially resulting in the assessment not being recognised in time for CDP scoring. Be sure to also disclose this target in the CDP questionnaire.


The SBTi will email the contact listed on the target submission form a letter stating whether or not the target was approved as science-based. If the target is not approved, the letter will state where it has not met the SBTi criteria. Companies should expect to receive this information no later than by the end of June 2017 for targets submitted for CDP Scoring by 23:59 UTC-12 April 15, 2017.


CDP only considers companies whose targets have been formally assessed through the SBTi official target validation as science-based.