The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) today published the first formal framework meant to help companies set goals for preserving nature and biodiversity.
The new guidelines build on the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), started in 2015, to help companies set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with keeping global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. More than 2,000 companies have already set verified targets related to emissions reductions through SBTi.
SBTN’s guidance for nature is a recognition that planetary health is not just about managing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but also protecting biodiversity and ecosystems. Science-based targets are commitments verified to be in line with the latest climate science. The new recommendations focused on nature are meant to provide a pathway for companies to limit environmental impacts.
For freshwater, the goals consist of recommendations for reductions in water quantity usage and an increase in water quality (practices that decrease nutrient pollution). For land, the goals include no conversion of natural landscapes to agricultural, developed or cleared lands, reducing the agriculture footprint and encouraging more restoration.
"The nature science-based targets are complementing climate science-based targets in a really key way by incentivizing corporate action beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and actually addressing overall needs of the environment and to address nature loss," said Varsha Vijay, technical director at SBTN.
SBTN is opening the guidance first to just 17 pilot companies, with broader release to the public in 2024. The pilot companies — including AB InBev, LVMH, Nestlé, Neste, Suntory Holdings, Tesco and H&M Group — are preparing to submit targets for validation by SBTN and help test its validation criteria.
"We're providing [this guidance] so that companies can move from having multiple and conflicting sources of definition on what [doing] enough for nature looks like, to having consistent, replicable guidance that can be compared across companies," said Erin Billman, executive director at SBTN.
This first release covers only land and freshwater pledges for a limited number of sectors, with recommendations for preserving biodiversity embedded into both sets of guidance. The full set — with added guidance for healthy oceans — will be out by 2025.
Climate change and nature are closely linked, and there is no way the planet can keep to 1.5 C degrees of warming without preventing and reversing nature loss, according to the United Nations. And the world is barreling down a path of biodiversity destruction — global animal populations have shrunk by 69 percent in the last 50 years, half the wetlands in Europe have been lost in the past 300 years and over 1 million species are threatened with extinction.
The nature science-based targets are complementing climate science-based targets beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing needs of the environment.
The framework announced this week outlines the first three steps companies should take to start the process of setting nature-related targets, including assessing impacts on the environment; interpreting and prioritizing which locations and targets the company needs; and then measuring, setting targets and disclosing. Ideas related to mitigating biodiversity loss are woven throughout all of the methodologies.
According to Billman, SBTN started with freshwater and land for three reasons; the science was the most advanced in these areas and added a level of clarity and consensus among the technical and scientific community; there was philanthropic support for that work; and corporate demand, readiness and impact were most available.
"[The main points are] avoiding impacts wherever possible, and then where impacts are necessary, reducing them as much as possible, and then taking actions to regenerate and restore," Billman said. "And putting that in the context of the broader systems transformation required, both at the business level but at the broader sector and societal level to transform from an economy that is destroying nature to one that is preserving and restoring."
This criteria comes at a moment of momentum for biodiversity commitments, both in the corporate world and outside of it. Last December at COP15, countries finalized the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, nature’s equivalent to the Paris Agreement. The framework also included a 30 by 30 commitment, which designates 30 percent of the Earth's land as protected areas by 2030.
"The 30 by 30 focus is really on the conservation side of the equation," Billman said. "This work is focused on the other 70 percent [that are] the working lands to make sure that it doesn't encroach on that 30 percent."