Science-Based Targets and What They Mean

2 December, 2020
As an Environment Consultant from a scientific background, I personally love making science-based targets, but I have experienced some friction with this concept. There are people out there, like me, who hear terms like carbon neutrality and net-zero commitments and get excited by the environmental and business potential of them. On the other hand, for some business owners, there’s nothing that fills them with greater dread than the accountability of carbon offsetting or sustainable development goals. I don’t shy away from these individuals because they are most in need of my help, for the planet’s sake.

In this article, I am going to explore some of my favourite ‘science-based targets’ and explain what each of these things means in simple terms. I’m also going to ask and answer some big questions, like ‘what are the benefits of picking an SDG and committing to it?’ and ‘Is carbon equal around the world?’.

Carbon Zero / Zero Carbon

Definition: causing or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

What’s an example of this?

Zero-carbon is often applied to products, business operations, and in ambitious situations, entire cities. I like the concept of zero-carbon cities for the future, which will ideally have no carbon footprint, run entirely on renewable energy, and will do no harm to the planet. As it stands, almost every city on Earth must burn coal and emit carbon to survive. To achieve zero-carbon by reducing emissions will be much harder than designing something to be carbon zero in the first place. Renewable energy must be the sole source of energy and used to power all transport, whilst also helping power living conditions that do not create emissions either. The task seems almost impossible, so it is something that science is working towards.

Carbon Neutrality

Definition: an entity, such as a company, service, product, or event, that has balanced out its carbon emissions by making carbon savings through other efforts.

 What’s an example of this?

Whilst it may seem as simple as

  1. Calculate carbon emissions
  2. Plant enough trees to balance things out

There’s actually much more to it. The PAS 2060 Carbon Neutrality programme is one example of a carbon neutrality strategy plan that some businesses are using to capture data, set up reporting frameworks, and find multiple avenues and opportunities to use carbon neutrality behaviour as a positive activity.

Carbon offsetting

Definition: the activity of negating your carbon emissions to reach a state of carbon neutrality.

This is essentially the process of the previous section above on carbon neutrality. It marks the ways in which businesses, people, or organisations go about reducing carbon in order to find that perfect balance. There are many carbon offsetting schemes which people and businesses can pay to do the work on their behalf.

How does it all fit into a global carbon budget?

The global carbon budget is the entire carbon budget of the planet, forever. It’s running out. This figure of ‘8 years to save the world’ or whatever you may have seen, is the figure of how long it is projected to take to spend this budget. To answer the question, I would say that right now, it doesn’t. We are using up our global carbon budget and fast.

Is carbon equal around the world?

Carbon inequality is incredibly extreme, meaning that whilst we are heading towards disaster as a planet, the majority of the damage has been caused by a minority of people. The poorest half of the 7 billion global population are responsible for only 10% of the estimated carbon emissions attributed to personal consumption. At the same time, 50% of global emission can be attributed to the top 10% of the richest people in the world. More here.

The benefits of picking an SDG commitment

I’m a huge fan of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and I can talk until I’m blue in the face about why it’s essential that we all, whether individuals or part of something larger, should get involved in helping to solve them. There are 17 goals and 169 targets within those goals, so it’s unfathomable to think that nothing it applicable. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, you can make your Earth-saving contribution through this campaign.

This report by EDIE actually promotes the idea of not cherry-picking SDGs, so I want to be fair and share the link so that you can consider the opposite side of the coin. See here. Their term ‘carbon-washing’ may come to play an important role in the future and is closely related to what I discussed at length in my previous article.

Here’s something that is quite promising too, a startup incubator just for SDG-focused businesses.

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