If we’re serious about avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the plans companies have for reaching net zero need to be science based.
This means they must be in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – namely to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
But what do organisations have to do in practise for their targets to be science-based? Here are four things to think about.
1. 2050 Deadline
Companies should reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. The scientific community has clearly stated the need to reach net-zero global CO2 emissions by mid-century in order to limit global warming to well below 2C. To play their part, companies must do the same.
2. The right pace of cuts
The amount of warming we will experience is directly proportional to the total amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. So, according to the science, to have a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C, humanity can only emit a further 420GtCO2.
For an organisation’s emissions reduction strategy to be science based, it must be consistent with this. To give a simplistic example, if you’re organisation is responsible for 1% of global emissions, you can only emit 1% of the remaining global carbon budget.
This cap on the amount an organisation can emit on route to net zero effectively sets the pace of emissions cuts. If you try and leave it all to the last minute, you’ll quickly go over this cap, or you’ll find yourself having to make impossibly big cuts in a short space of time. Knowing the carbon budget you have left, allows you set map a realistic trajectory to reaching net zero.
3. Net zero itself is not enough.
It’s not enough for a company to simply balance the amount of greenhouse gases they’re emitting with the amount they’re removing from the atmosphere.
At a global level there is limited scope for removing emissions – there’s only so much space to grow trees for example. This means organisations too must limit their reliance on removing emissions.
It’s reckoned that globally there will need to be a 90% cut in emissions, so a 90% cut in emissions is the ballpark target for organisations. Most sectors will actually have to cut more than that. The 10% of emissions remaining will come from those parts of the economy whose emissions are hard to eliminate, such as heavy industry and agriculture.
4. All emissions within the value-chain.
Organisations can’t pick and choose which bits of their operations to decarbonise. It has to be everything. So that’s upstream, downstream and everything in between.
For more information go to https://sciencebasedtargets.org.
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