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Ikea, Sony commit with 112 others to science-based climate goals

A slew of multinationals pledged Tuesday at COP21 to link emissions goals formally to climate science.

How does a company go about setting internal goals related to climate change?

Given the volume of research being done on the potential fallout from rising global temperatures, one might suspect that increasingly sophisticated climate science would be the basis of emissions targets. Not so. Variables such as internal operational and marketing goals often help serve as a basis for voluntary corporate sustainability goals.

On Tuesday, however, environmental think tank the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced notable progress in the realm of deceivingly simple-sounding "science-based goals."

In an announcement at the United Nations COP21 global climate talks in Paris, a total of 114 companies have joined a Science Based Targets initiative orchestrated in partnership with CDP, the World Wildlife Fund and the U.N. Global Compact.

Nine companies, including Walmart, Ikea, Coca-Cola, Dell, General Mills, Sony and Procter & Gamble, already have submitted and received approval for specific carbon goals. Their combined efforts are projected to prevent 573 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Several companies included are already noted purchasers of renewable energy.

"We’ve made good progress in reducing emissions and have invested 1.5 billion euro ($1.6 billion) in renewable energy since 2009," Ikea Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard said in a statement. "We’re now setting a science-based target to keep us on track to build a low-carbon, better business."

The precise targets vary from company to company, as well as the focus of emissions sources.  Scope 1 emissions deal with emissions from a company's direct operations and assets, while scope 2 emissions deal with a company's energy supply and scope 3 emissions refer to indirect supply chain emissions.

Food giant Kellogg, for example, has committed to a 15 percent reduction in emissions intensity — a measure of the ratio between each ton of carbon emitted for each ton of food produced. Consumer electronics manufacturer Dell, meanwhile, pledged to cut emissions from their facilities and operations 50 percent by 2020, along with an 80 percent reduction in the energy intensity of their product portfolio in the same time frame.

The new milestone for science-based goals comes as many businesses unveil carbon-centric targets at COP21, where the stated goal of the negotiations is to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Late Monday, for instance, lighting and medical device giant Philips announced a goal of hitting carbon neutrality by 2020. Like Nike, Google, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and many others, the company is an existing member of the corporate 100 percent renewable energy collective the RE100.

As illustrated by the growing number of groups trying to compel more coordinated corporate climate action, the business of emissions targets has become highly fragmented in the absence of unified government carbon regulations.

Corporate emissions cuts in the U.S. in particular largely have been voluntary — in some cases spurred by external forces such as activist pressure or cap-and-trade systems — and left up to those same companies to disclose results at their own discretion and within their own time frames.

Beyond science-based goals, increasing calls for a price on carbon, stricter financial disclosure rules for carbon assets and more unified sustainability reporting efforts are all adding momentum to the cause of more aggressive and more verifiable corporate emissions targets.

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