Setting science-based targets for nature (Science Based Targets Network)

Anna Triponel

June 2, 2023
Our key takeaway: If you thought your company was on top of it after setting its science-based targets for climate change, we have some news for you—the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) has introduced the first part of its framework to setting science-based targets for nature. The goal is for companies to set targets for reducing impacts on nature (including freshwater, oceans, land and biodiversity) that closely intersect with their climate targets, in recognition of the absolutely essential need to consider these topics together. Importantly, the SBTN also emphasises that all of this must be done with regard for a just, equitable transition and consideration for human rights. Like the climate targets, there are five steps for companies to take to achieve nature targets, intentionally drawing on the methodology of human rights due diligence: (1) Assess impacts on nature across the full value chain; (2) Prioritise focus based on impact; (3) Set meaningful targets that further impact; (4) Take action—avoid, reduce, restore and regenerate, and transform; and (5) Track progress and report publicly. Companies are expected to engage with stakeholders along each of these steps, so that the targets consider the perspectives of people who might be impacted by company activities to meet nature-based goals. 

The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), a global coalition of more than 80 organisations, has released its first framework for corporate science-based targets for nature:

  • About the framework: The science-based targets for nature were “developed to give companies the guidance to know if they are doing their part towards realizing the vision of an equitable, net zero and nature positive future.” The SBTN recognises that the “interplay between nature and climate requires collective, joined-up action to stabilize the climate, preserve freshwater resources, regenerate land, secure a healthy ocean and protect biodiversity.” It also underscores the importance of doing so equitably. To meet these objectives, the targets are intended to sit as part of a broader ecosystem of company commitments to responsible practices: they build on existing climate targets set by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and are in line with the safe and just Earth Systems Boundaries launched by the Earth Commission. They also align with the Global Biodiversity Framework, the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Developments Goals. The targets will be released in several phases, with this first release giving companies a framework to assess their environmental impacts and set targets in two areas, freshwater quality (specific to nitrogen and phosphorus) and quantity; and terrestrial ecosystems. Ultimately the targets will expand in scope to also address biodiversity and oceans.
  • How companies can take action: The SBTN applies the framework for companies to set science-based targets, which entails five key steps: (1) Assess impacts on nature across the full value-chain using SBTN tools like a sector-level materiality assessment and a value chain assessment to approximate where impacts occur in the value chain across both geographies and tiers. (2) Prioritise focus, including defining specific locations and activities for which the company should set targets and screening for feasibility. (3) Set targets building on baseline data and the science-based methodology (the process of companies to have their targets verified in currently being piloted), and disclose these targets publicly. (4) Take action to address impacts based on the SBTi Action Framework: avoid, reduce, restore and regenerate, and transform. (5) Track progress, adapt strategy if needed and report publicly. The first release of the framework includes methodologies and tools for Steps 1 to 3, with additional guidance for Steps 4 and 5 to follow in 2024.
  • Role for stakeholder engagement: The SBTN has also launched guidance for companies on how to engage with stakeholders throughout the process of setting science-based targets—an action it strongly recommends to ensure that targets consider the perspectives of people who might be impacted by company activities to meet nature-based goals. For example, the guidance indicates that “[c]pmpanies should consult with stakeholders who may be affected by Freshwater targets that are set and the actions undertaken to meet them.” In terms of land use, “companies setting No Conversion of Natural Ecosystems targets must respect the rights of Indigenous People, particularly the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and engage in collaborative land use planning processes with local stakeholders in order to ensure that respect for the land and human rights of communities is embedded in the actions taken by the company.” And, “[c]ompanies setting the Land Footprint Reduction target must, in particular, safeguard against sourcing strategies that prioritize yield and efficiency of agricultural suppliers without regard for the impacts of those strategies on local livelihoods.” The stakeholder engagement approach is underpinned by three core principles: “respect for human rights and core tenets of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI); recognition of underlying inequities and power structures; [and] embedding in an understanding of place.”

You may also be interested in

This week’s latest resources, articles and summaries.