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SBTi unveils new climate target standard for land-use and forestry sectors

The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) asked food, agriculture and land-use companies to commit to ending deforestation by 2025.

Aerial photo of logging in a Malaysian rainforest. deforestation

Aerial photo of logging in a Malaysian rainforest. Image via Shutterstock/Rich Carey.

A new corporate framework specifically geared towards helping food, farming and forestry companies measure and reduce their land-based greenhouse gases has been launched by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), requiring firms to set clear goals to end deforestation and achieve net zero emissions.

The "Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) Science Based Target Setting Guidance" has been created to provide businesses in land-intensive sectors such as food, agriculture and forestry with a climate science-aligned framework for setting credible emissions reduction goals, the SBTi said.

The independent climate target certifying organization — run by a coalition of environmental groups and climate scientists — said it offered firms in the sectors, which are collectively responsible for around 22 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the "tools to play their part in preventing the catastrophic impacts of climate change."

The SBTi independently validates businesses' emission reduction targets to ensure they are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit temperature increases this century to 1.5C or "well below" 2C. The group has also recently strengthened its guidelines to ensure corporate net zero emissions targets deliver near-term emissions reductions and are not overly reliant on carbon offsets.

The SBTi says it offers firms the 'tools to play their part in preventing the catastrophic impacts of climate change.'

SBTi said more than 360 companies with land-intensive operations have already committed or set targets through its existing framework, almost half of which are publicly reporting their emissions, while a further 38 percent have committed to setting net zero targets.

However, it explained that few of these firms account for land-based emissions in their targets or disclosures, largely due to a lack of guidance and best practice methods.

The new framework launched last week is therefore aimed at helping boost understanding among food, farming and forestry firms about how to accurately track land-based emissions from forestry and agricultural production through land use change and land management and accelerate the decarbonization efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C.

"The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the wood used in the houses where we live and the medicines that heal us are available thanks to the forests, lands and agriculture that sustain us," said Martha Stevenson, WWF senior director and senior advisor for the SBTi. "However, the commercialization of our natural environment is a significant source of emissions and is also the sector most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

The SBTi said it would also be encouraging companies to develop a long-term net zero FLAG target to achieve deep emissions cuts of at least 72% before 2050.

"Heat waves and droughts have become more frequent and intense. Storms have gotten stronger and floods more destructive. This is already causing serious damage to ecosystems, threatening food security, human health, businesses and economies around the world — especially in emerging countries. To avoid the devastating impacts of the climate crisis and to build resilience in the most vulnerable communities, cutting land-related emissions must be a priority."

The SBTi has invited companies to commit to setting FLAG science-based targets, which it said it hopes will "send a credible signal the sector is ready, willing and able to decarbonize and encourage local, regional and national policies to increase the level of climate ambition."

Companies within land-intensive sectors — such as food or forestry, or those with land-related emissions that contribute 20 percent or more of their overall emissions — that apply for to have their climate goals verified through the SBTi will be required to set science-based targets in line with the new FLAG guidelines.

In addition to a near-term FLAG target, covering immediate emissions reductions for the next five to 10 years, the SBTi said it would also be encouraging companies to develop a long-term net zero FLAG target to achieve deep emissions cuts of at least 72 percent before 2050, in order to ensure they are aligned with its Net Zero Standard.

SBTi also stressed that nature-based carbon removals from FLAG companies would not be viewed as a substitute for deep emissions cuts.

SBTi said it "recognizes the climate mitigation potential of all land use change," but emphasized that stopping deforestation makes up 80 percent of the 4.6GT mitigation potential from land use change. As such, the SBTi said its new FLAG guidance will require companies to make a commitment to no deforestation by no later than 2025.

SBTi also stressed that nature-based carbon removals from FLAG companies would not be viewed as a substitute for deep emissions cuts, in line with its existing Net Zero Standard framework for corporate climate goals.

"The next few years are critical in our efforts to address the climate crisis, and this guidance addresses 22 percent of global emissions that have largely been ignored to date," said Christa Anderson, director at WWF and co-lead of the SBTi FLAG project. "The food, land and agriculture sector has the potential to both cut emissions and enhance carbon sinks at the pace to keep the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5C within reach. Companies should incorporate this guidance into their planning and take action now — to stop deforestation and improve land management practices — if we are to have a sustainable future tomorrow."

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