SBTi launches guidance on land-related emissions removals
But some experts question if it goes far enough for the largest carbon-emitting sector after energy
Guidance has been issued to provide businesses in land-intensive sectors such as food, agriculture and forestry with the tools to reduce their emissions in line with climate science.
The Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) science-based target setting guidance, issued by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), focuses on a sector that represents 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions. FLAG is the largest emitting sector after energy and, according to the SBTi, its emissions must be cut by 72% by 2050.
The SBTi is a partnership between CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Its mission is to define and promote best practice in emissions reductions and net-zero targets in line with climate science, while providing technical assistance to companies and carrying out independent assessments.
But the policy director at the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) Initiative, Helena Wright, says that while the FLAG methodology has improved since the first draft, there are major gaps that cause concern for investors and the wider market.
“It fails to include specific reduction targets for methane emissions, despite the Global Methane Pledge made by world leaders at COP26. There is also a clear and present danger that a single-minded focus on emissions reduction based on this guidance could lead to more intensive factory farming, therefore increasing the risk of the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance.”
Wright explains that while over 400 food and agriculture-related companies had already committed to set their emission reductions through SBTi, it is vital for methodology to set a high bar for climate ambitions. These include measurement of damaging greenhouse gases like methane and credible verification of the claims each company makes on issues like deforestation.
SBTi’s guidance details five key requirements. This includes requiring firms to set near-term (five- to ten-year) emission-reduction targets in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C, accounting for removals in the near-term through, for example, enhancing soil carbon sequestration on working lands, and setting long-term FLAG science-based targets and zero deforestation targets.
In February 2022, the New Climate Institute published a report suggesting that 11 out of 18 multinationals rubber-stamped by the SBTi had highly contentious reduction targets.
Meanwhile, Laura Hoy, ESG and equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, told Net Zero Investor that the latest SBTi guidance is a useful framework for land-intensive businesses to take their commitments further.
“The most important step any company can take in the fight against climate change is creating an actionable plan to address emissions. Land-intensive businesses will play an integral role in the path to net-zero,” she says.
Hoy echoes the statistic that the sector is responsible for 22% of global emissions each year, but that it offers roughly 30% of the mitigation potential.
“That’s because on top of reducing their own greenhouse gas contributions, they have the potential to remove emissions depending on the types of plants occupying the area. By thinking about emissions for these types of businesses on a more comprehensive level, the framework offers the potential for these businesses to plant themselves at the centre of the sustainability push,” she says.