For years, forward thinking organizations have recognized the benefits of setting public greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. Setting aggressive GHG reduction targets can:
- Galvanize reduction efforts at an organization and often leads to the identification of additional reduction opportunities.
- Help garner senior management attention and increase funding for internal GHG reduction projects.
- Encourage innovation, improve employee morale, and help in the recruiting and retention of qualified employees.
These organizations are responding by setting increasingly aggressive targets. Many are associating aggressive targets as those that are in line with science. For example, as of the end of 2020, more than 500 companies have set targets based on guidance and resources provided by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). According to SBTi, “Science-based targets provide a clearly-defined pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, helping prevent the worst impacts of climate change and future-proof business growth.” SBTi considers targets as “science-based” if they are in line with “limiting global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.”
Declaring GHG reduction targets publicly is best practice. Publicly reported GHG targets provide transparency, accountability, and credibility to the target setting process. It is recommended that reported targets adhere to the following best practices:
- Targets should include a base year and the target year. The base year is the year against which GHG reductions are tracked.
- The year in which the target will be met should be 5 to 15 years from the base year.
- Targets should be aggressive. An aggressive level of reduction is one that is beyond business as usual in an organization’s sector. To determine whether the target is sufficiently aggressive, a good rule of thumb is to align it with the criteria of the SBTi. Those criteria require emissions reductions of 2.5% per year for targets that cover scope 1 and 2 emissions and emissions reductions of 1.23% per year for targets that cover scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
- Targets should be for an absolute reduction in GHG emissions. Targets should be a clearly defined, absolute GHG reduction to be achieved over a specified period of time (e.g., 25% reduction over 10 years).
- Targets should cover global operations in their geographic boundaries. Targets should cover emissions generated in all countries, not just in one or several locations.
- Targets should address all three emission scopes. Targets should include all scope 1 and 2 emissions and at least a portion of scope 3 emissions.
- Publicly declared targets should include all of the above information. For example, “ACME commits to a 35% absolute reduction of scope 1, 2, and 3 global emissions by 2030 from 2020 levels.”
Target Setting Resources
Chapter 10 of the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard (Setting a GHG Target) (pdf) contains more information about setting aggressive GHG targets.
In addition, EPA has developed two target setting resources:
- Corporate GHG Inventorying and Target Setting Self-Assessment
This self-assessment is responsive to organizations’ interests in benchmarking their GHG management approaches. Based on an analysis of more than 500 publicly-reporting companies in 2017, this resource can be used by both leading organizations and organizations beginning to address their GHG emissions as an internal communication and management resource and a high-level benchmarking assessment. It aims to help them identify which inventorying and target setting actions reflect common business practices today and validate additional inventorying and target-setting behaviors that position them for more cost-effective GHG emission reductions. Results from this self-assessment can also highlight how other companies develop their inventories and set GHG reduction targets.
- Annual GHG Inventory Summary and Target Tracking Form
This form provides a format to summarize GHG emissions and track emissions over time against a GHG reduction target. This form describes emissions in terms of total CO2-equivalent at an organization level, broken out by emission source type—scope 1 direct (e.g., stationary combustion, process, mobile sources), scope 2 indirect (e.g., electricity, steam purchases), and scope 3 indirect (e.g., employee commuting, business travel, product transport)—for both domestic and international sources. The form also includes historical totals, a performance indicator (if applicable) that is used to track progress toward a reduction target, data on reduction sources such as offset projects (e.g., sequestration), and green power or renewable energy certificate (REC) purchases.