The Science Based Targets Initiative announces 1.5°C update

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has announced that it will publish an updated set of target validation criteria in April to reflect the latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published in October 2018.

The SBTi champions science-based target setting as a way of boosting companies’ competitive advantage and protecting business value in the transition to a zero carbon economy. Science-based targets provide companies with a clearly defined pathway to future-proof growth by specifying the extent and pace at which they need to reduce their GHG emissions.

To date the initiative has based its qualification criteria on the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperatures to a maximum 2°C temperature rise. Verco expressed concern that this target was insufficient in our short animation ‘The Climate Coin Toss’. The IPCC’s 2018 report has moved the debate on to targeting 1.5°C and pursuing ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050. This has been reinforced by recent events showing that ‘normality’ is being disrupted by what appear to be causes related to climate change.

In a short press release, the SBTi have made a few points clear:

  • Targets consistent with limiting warming to 2°C will not be accepted as ‘science-based’ after October 2019;

  • Targets will now be classified as 1.5°C, well below 2°C or 2°C;

  • Companies must review and, if required, rework their targets every five years from when the original target is approved.

A step change in ambition

At Verco we welcome the step-up in ambition from the SBTi. For corporates, this move effectively ‘resets the clock’ in terms of the early mover advantage of setting a robust, science-based target. Relatively few companies have set a 1.5°C target – a group which includes Carlsberg, BT and Tesco. Businesses that set a 2°C-compliant target will now be looking at their previous commitments and testing against the new 1.5°C pathway.

We look forward to seeing the detail of the SBTi’s new criteria in April, and how this aligns with Christiana Figueres’ challenge to halve global GHG emissions for the three decades from 2020 to get to a net zero carbon world by 2050. Alongside the 1.5°C pathway, the SBTi will also publish resources enabling companies to pursue a “well-below 2°C pathway”, to be deemed the minimum level of ambition accepted by the initiative. We are interested to see how these two approaches differ, and the SBTi’s justification for doing so.

How we can help you

Verco have been advising major global business on setting science-based targets since the start of the SBTi movement. Organisations developing their strategy in this area may have a number of questions following this announcement:

    • Have you already set Science Based Targets, and want to understand what this change means for you?

    • Are you looking at setting Science Based Targets for the first time?

    • Do you want to better understand the benefits of setting a Science Based Target for your organisation?

For more information, please contact our Head of Strategy and Research, Tim Crozier-Cole (