The journey of the Science Based Targets initiative

27th Jun 2022

In a few days, the SBTi will be marking 100 days of Luiz Amaral in post as our first CEO with a live presentation and Q&A. As we get closer to this milestone, I want to take a moment to reflect on SBTi’s journey - where we started, the milestones achieved, and why we are more determined than ever in our mission to drive ambitious climate action in the business sector.

From a concept to a movement

When SBTi started back in 2014, we had the vision of raising climate ambition in the corporate sector by driving the adoption of climate targets in line with best-practice, and with science. A promising concept, science-based targets were still nascent at the time, but were grounded in solid foundations, including strong academic research and real world application among some pioneering companies.

Since conception, the SBTi has soared to heights I had previously only dared to imagine. Science-based targets have been embraced by the ecosystem as the de facto standard for climate ambition for the business sector. The uptake has grown exponentially worldwide. As of June 2022, we have over 3000 companies committed to taking climate action, and over 1000 commitments to net-zero. We launched the world’s first corporate Net-Zero Standard in October 2021, and are in the process of developing the world's first standard for science-based net-zero targets in the financial sector. Our goal now is to make net-zero, 1.5°C-aligned science-based targets ‘business as usual’ for companies worldwide.

From a movement to a successful start-up

In under a decade, the SBTi has positioned itself at the vanguard of climate mitigation for non-state actors. However, throughout this period, there has been a significant evolution not only in what we do, but also, in how we do it.

When we started, the best-available science to inform target-setting was the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Energy Technology Perspectives scenarios from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Back then, the global benchmark for ambition was 2°C. This is the ambition that informed the first targets validated by the SBTi. After the adoption of the Paris Agreement, and with the release of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C at the end of 2018, the goal for climate ambition shifted from 2°C to 1.5°C, and the number of publicly available scenarios and emission pathways increased significantly. Since then, we started the transition of our framework to enable and incentivize the adoption of targets consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. As per our latest progress report, the majority of targets validated by the SBTi are now 1.5°C-aligned. From July 15, we will only validate scope 1 and 2 targets that are consistent with this ambition.

As with every new enterprise, the initiative started with humble roots. We began as an informal collaboration, without any dedicated budget and with a handful of individuals trying to get the initiative off-the-ground alongside their full-time jobs. We now have a team of over 50 full-time experts.

Throughout this journey, we have also evolved from this initial collaboration, with a stronger focus on scaling the number of companies setting science-based targets through awareness, capacity building, advocacy and campaigning, to a robust framework with clear and well documented processes.

Today, our standards and sectoral guidance are developed in line with best-practice for standard-setting organizations following a balanced multi-stakeholder process. Our standards, guidance methods and tools are transparently documented and freely available on our website.

Science-based targets set by companies go through a thorough and independent assessment following transparent and publicly available protocols. Our target analysts adhere to strict conflict of interest and quality control protocols involving independent assessment by at least two analysts, hosted by different partner organizations. Our website clearly documents each of the targets that have been assessed by the SBTi, as well as the companies that have committed but are yet to go through a target validation process.

As of 2021, we assess progress against targets and disclose this assessment for each company individually as part of our progress report, and as of 2022, in our new online progress dashboard.

From a successful start-up to a robust scale-up

Despite this progress, we know there is still much to do, and no room to be complacent. We must continue to strengthen our framework to best serve our mission as we evolve from a successful start-up to a consolidated organization.

As part of this, we are transitioning towards a governance and operating model that is in line with best practice for standard setting and certification organizations. Some of the changes that we are working on include:

  • Organizational governance: We are strengthening our governance by growing and diversifying both our executive leadership team and our board to ensure we have the best global experts guiding us and holding us to account. And we are looking outside the initiative to learn from other world-leading - and world-changing - organizations.

  • Technical governance: We are strengthening our technical governance and decision-making processes so that we can ensure the continued technical excellence of our work. We are introducing an independent technical council to scrutinize our technical decision-making and ensure our decision-making continues to be the best in class. We are also strengthening our accountability by recruiting a Compliance Director, introducing a formal complaints procedure, and being proactive about auditing our work, both internally and externally.

Growth will - rightly - bring additional scrutiny. We welcome this. As a trusted, independent standard-setter, transparency and collaboration are at the very heart of our work.

We are proud of everything the SBTi has achieved to date and how it has grown and evolved, and are confident about our plans to strengthen the initiative even further.

To learn more about our future steps, be sure to register for our Ambition, Growth and Evolution of the SBTi online event on June 30, led by Luiz and featuring myself and Lila Karbassi, Chair of the Executive Board.