The science is clear – global GHG emissions need to fall by 45 percent by 2030, reaching “net zero” around 2050, in order to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change. Nearly a quarter of global GHG emissions come from agriculture, forestry and other land use, and the sector offers huge mitigation potential. Companies in land-intensive sectors are starting to recognize this and are taking steps to join the race to zeros – zero emissions and zero deforestation.
Already, some 2,000 businesses and financial institutions are working with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to slash their emissions in line with climate science. In this article, UN-REDD’s Emelyne Cheney talked to Christa Anderson who is leading SBTi’s work to develop methods and guidance enabling businesses in food, agriculture and forest sectors to set science-based targets that fully incorporate deforestation and land-related emissions.
Emelyne: Some of our readers may not be familiar with the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi), can you tell us very briefly what it is and how it works?
Christa: The SBTi is a global body enabling businesses and financial institutions to set ambitious emissions reductions targets in line with the latest climate science. It is focused on accelerating corporate climate action in line with halving global emissions before 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions before 2050.
The initiative is a collaboration between the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and is one of the We Mean Business Coalition commitments. The SBTi defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting, offers resources and guidance to reduce barriers to adoption, and independently assesses and validates companies’ targets.
For some sectors and industries, the SBTi has developed sector-specific methodologies, frameworks and requirements, as well as tailored guidance documents to help companies through their target-setting process; one of these sectors being forest, land and agriculture.
Emelyne: How is the level of engagement of companies from the forest, land and agriculture sector in the SBTi? Do you see momentum in that sector?
Christa: One of the reasons that SBTi undertook Forest, Land and Agriculture project (FLAG) - which is the initiative to develop sector specific targets for companies in the forest, land, and agriculture sectors - is that companies in these areas were asking for guidance. There is significant interest and mitigation potential in the sector, both in emissions reductions from things like improved agriculture and reducing land use change, and also in carbon sequestration from things like soil carbon sequestration and improved forest management.
Emelyne: That is interesting, can you tell us more about the characteristics of the forest, land and agriculture sector that called for the specific methodology and guidance that is currently under development?
Christa: As compared to energy and industry, FLAG (forests, land, and agriculture; also referred to in the scientific community as AFOLU) includes significant emissions from multiple Greenhouse Gases; think of CO2 from land use change, N2O from agricultural fertilization, and CH4 from cattle production. Some of these emissions, especially the non-CO2 emissions, will not be eliminated even under the most ambitious climate scenarios because we need to continue to feed a growing population.
In addition, FLAG is unique in including not just emission reductions, but also significant carbon sequestration. Other sectors under SBTi do not include carbon sequestration. These are a couple of the reasons that we prioritized guidance for FLAG this year.
Emelyne: As I am sure you know, a number of national governments are actively engaged in reducing and monitoring emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. How does your work complement their efforts?
Christa: First, companies that set a science-based FLAG target also need to have a zero deforestation target. This is because emissions from deforestation are such a large share of FLAG emissions. So, science-based FLAG targets directly complement other activities engaged in reducing deforestation.
Second, corporate science-based targets are good at addressing climate change mitigation that is possible within corporate supply chains. SBTi enables corporate targets, so companies have to set targets related to the working lands in their supply chains: think working forests and agricultural land.
Obviously, national governments have purview beyond working lands, extending into forests and other natural lands. Science-based FLAG targets complement the work of government programs that work more broadly at the landscape, jurisdictional, or national level.
Emelyne: The UN-REDD Programme aims to facilitate one Gigaton of forest emission reductions by 2025. What are your recommendations on how companies and governments can work together to achieve this objective?
Christa: As I mentioned, companies that set a science-based FLAG target also need to have a zero deforestation target.
In the current draft FLAG guidance that is out for public consultation, companies need to set deforestation cut off dates of 2020 or earlier.
In other words, under SBTi, companies that have deforestation in their supply chains should work to eliminate it as soon as possible. In addition, a number of companies that don’t have deforestation in their supply chains are interested in investing in what we call ‘beyond value chain mitigation’, including in reducing emissions from deforestation. Jurisdictional programs could provide a good opportunity for these companies to also engage in efforts to reduce forest carbon emissions.
Emelyne: Thanks very much Christa, it is great to hear of the growing commitment to climate action in the agriculture and forest sectors, and we look forward to the FLAG guidance being implemented in practice!
To find out more about the SBTi, visit their website at: https://sciencebasedtargets.org. The FLAG guidance will be pilot tested in field projects over 2022 and 2023. For more information, see: https://sciencebasedtargets.org/sectors/forest-land-and-agriculture.
Emelyne Cheney, Regional Team Leader, Forest and Climate Change, Asia Pacific, firstname.lastname@example.org
was talking to Christa Anderson who has 13 years of experience working on climate and forest issues, including extensive work across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked on WWF’s global science team, on climate change programs at the World Bank and in International Programs at the US Forest Service. She has a PhD in Environmental Science.