The SBTi’s FLAG Guidance: A groundbreaking moment for addressing land-related emissions

13th Oct 2022

Back in January 2020, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), with the support of WWF, kicked off an ambitious new project. It aimed to give companies in the forest, land and agriculture (FLAG) sector tools and guidance to set science-based targets that include land-based emissions and removals for the first time.

The guidance was urgently needed. The FLAG sector represents almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making it the largest emitter after energy. But due to the absence of land sector emissions methods and data, most of these emissions were unaddressed in corporate inventories.

That’s why the launch of the Forest, Land and Agriculture Science Based Target Setting Guidance (SBTi FLAG) in September 2022 is so important. It provides a solution for tackling the 22% of global emissions that have largely been ignored, by giving companies a clear understanding of the action they must take to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Developed through more than two years of data review, model development, pilot testing and public consultation - including engagement with industry leaders, scientists, academics and civil society, SBTi FLAG provides a robust, clear, science-based and practical guide toward a net-zero future for FLAG sector companies.

Breaking new ground in decarbonization

While more than 410 FLAG companies have already committed to or set emissions reduction targets through the SBTi, few account for land-based emissions. Thanks to SBTi FLAG, they now have the opportunity, as well as a responsibility, to raise their ambition in line with the latest science, to prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Businesses with land-intensive value chain activities and those in any other sector that have land-related emissions that cover 20% or more of their overall footprint are now required to set FLAG science-based targets. To address this 22% wedge of global emissions, the SBTi FLAG Guidance includes two approaches:

  1. A whole sector approach covering all corporate land-related emissions and removals across agriculture and forestry
  2. 11 mitigation pathways for major commodities with significant carbon footprints including beef, chicken, dairy, leather, maize, palm oil, pork, rice, soy, wheat, and timber and wood fiber.

The commodity mitigation pathways include specific regional data, so that targets can be specified to the parts of the world a company sources from.
In addition to near-term FLAG targets, covering immediate emissions reductions for the next 5-10 years, companies are also encouraged to develop long-term net-zero agriculture targets aligned to the SBTi’s Net-Zero Standard. These should achieve deep emissions cuts of at least 72% before 2050. Long term targets for forestry have not been developed.

The sector’s secret weapon

The ability of plants to sequester carbon and store it in biomass and soils gives this sector a secret weapon: carbon removals. These removals make up half of the mitigation potential in the FLAG sector, and SBTi FLAG enables companies to unlock the full potential of land-intensive activities. This includes activities like improving forest management practices and enhancing soil carbon sequestration and silvopasture on working lands.

Companies in this sector are now required to account for carbon removals in their near-term targets. With the removals and reduction opportunities combined, this sector has the potential to provide up to 30% of global climate mitigation needed by 2050.

Importantly however, removals are not a substitute for deep emissions cuts. Businesses without FLAG targets cannot include or use FLAG removals to meet their energy or industrial emissions targets.

Preventing deforestation

Deforestation is responsible for 10% of annual carbon emissions. It also makes up the majority (80%) of the mitigation potential from land use change. Consequently, companies will not be able to achieve their SBTi FLAG targets without stopping all land conversion.

Aligned with the Accountability Framework initiative, SBTi FLAG requires companies setting FLAG science-based targets to submit a no-deforestation commitment with a target date no later than 2025, with a recommended cutoff year of 2020.

The time to act is now

As the climate crisis worsens, so do extreme weather events, affecting every region on Earth. More intense storms, worsening droughts, and heightened risk of forest fires are causing serious damage to the land and threaten our agricultural and forestry systems. Companies with land-intensive activities are therefore particularly exposed to climate change. They need to set science-based targets in order to help preserve not only the climate, but also the very land on which their business depends.

SBTi FLAG unlocks an entirely new level of ambition for companies with land-intensive activities. To reach net-zero by 2050, we will need every member of the private sector to play their part - and now, FLAG companies have the resources they need to take action and set FLAG science-based targets.

Commit now and do your part for the planet by keeping the 1.5°C global temperature target within reach and enabling the transformation to a global net-zero future.