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Center for Corporate Climate Leadership

Comparing Absolute and Intensity Targets

Absolute Targets

Reduce absolute emissions over time (Example: reduce CO2 by 25 percent below 1994 levels by 2010).


  • Designed to achieve a reduction in a specified quantity of GHGs emitted to the atmosphere
  • Environmentally robust as it entails a commitment to reduce GHGs by a specified amount
  • Transparently addresses potential stakeholder concerns about the need to manage absolute emissions


  • Target base year recalculations for significant structural changes to the organization add complexity to tracking progress over time
  • Does not allow comparisons of GHG intensity/efficiency
  • Recognizes a company for reducing GHGs by decreasing production or output (organic decline)
  • May be difficult to achieve if the company grows unexpectedly and growth is linked to GHG emissions

Intensity Targets

Reduce the ratio of emissions relative to a business metric over time (Example: reduce CO2 by 12 percent per tonne of clinker between 2000 and 2008).


  • Reflects GHG performance improvements independent of organic growth or decline
  • Target base year calculations for structural changes are usually not required
  • May increase the comparability of GHG performance among companies


  • No guarantee that GHG emissions to the atmosphere will be reduced—absolute emissions may rise even if intensity goes down and output increases
  • Companies with diverse operations may find it difficult to define a single common business metric
  • If a monetary variable is used for the business metric, such as dollar of revenue or sales, it must be recalculated for changes in product prices and product mix, as well as inflation, adding complexity to the tracking process.

From the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development GHG Protocol.

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