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THRIVE Framework: Science-Based Targets

The Holistic Regenerative Innovative Value Entity



Science-based targets (SBTs) must be set if we are to understand the social and natural world. This is a systematic and quantitative process, undertaken by gathering evidence through experimentation. Observation must be undertaken, and condensed into testable theories. Mitigation should be theoretically valid, measurable, and explainable by clear and analytical rationale (Andersen et al., 2021).

What are Science-Based Targets?

Governments, organisations, and companies set science-based targets as goals to combat climate change. These targets adhere to the Paris Agreement, which was brought about to keep global temperature rise (this century) to well below 2 degrees Celsius, (and above pre-industrial levels). This aligns with efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Targets cover the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the adoption of renewable energy, and the implementation of energy-efficient measures. Targets also encompass a shift to low-carbon technologies, waste reduction, and the adoption of circular economy practices, among others.

Why do we need science-based targets?

Science-based targets guide entities in contributing to the common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, they provide a clear framework and methodologies. SBTs, as a critical tool, draw meaningful action from companies and governments to address climate change.

Science-based targets enable organisations to define goals based on scientific discoveries. This not only protects businesses against the risks connected with climate change, but it is also cost-effective, and assists with operational efficiency. Furthermore, larger corporations are asking for climate change targets from their supply chain partners. As a result, adopting science-based goals is advantageous for reputation, client retention, and new business acquisition.

Science-based targets create a pathway toward a low-carbon economy.
Science-based targets create a pathway toward a low-carbon economy.
Source: Offshore Engineer.

Establishing science-based goals is a response to the difficulty we face in containing the disastrous effects of climate change. SBTs advocate for a low-carbon economy to help mitigate these effects.

In addition, Setting SBTs will provide numerous benefits. At a company level, SBTs are crucial components of corporate sustainability efforts that allow companies to demonstrate leadership. Stakeholders recognise the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. Pursuing SBTs also enables companies to better manage risks associated with the impacts of climate change. Setting targets allows them to anticipate regulatory changes and craft plans to respond to such changes. Adopting SBTs also induces innovation, because it requires companies to align their operations to the targets they are committed to achieving. Thus, companies can use this as a building block to become less wasteful, more energy-efficient, and more cost-efficient.

The big picture

Overall science-based targets are targets developed through an intergovernmental process to address a planetary concern. These require global commitment and examples include the following:

  1. Vienna Convention, 1969
  2. Montreal Protocol, 1987
  3. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992
  4. Kyoto Protocol, 1997
  5. Paris Agreement, 2015

Meanwhile, specific science-based targets correspond to sector-specific targets that can be disaggregated at the entity level (Andersen et al., 2021). Specific targets will vary depending on the organisation and its operations. The ultimate goal is to reduce emissions in order to limit global warming and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Several global initiatives have been kickstarted in order to achieve specific science-based targets, including:

  1. Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI): The SBTI plays a pivotal role in guiding and providing tools to companies globally. This enables them to define a clear pathway towards reducing emissions. 
  2. RE100: This is a collaborative corporate energy initiative, which brings together companies committed to sourcing 100% renewable electricity. It subsequently provides resources to help companies set science-based targets for renewable energy use.
  3. Science Based Targets Network (SBTN): A network of experts and organisations that aim to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. They place emphasis on enabling companies and cities to become resilient by incorporating science-based targets in response to climate change.
  4. EP100: This focuses on energy efficiency as a way to achieve climate change goals worldwide. As well as this, it brings together companies committed to doubling their energy productivity. 
  5. Net Zero Initiative: This is a collaborative engagement with companies and the scientific community that aims to accelerate the transition to a net-zero emissions economy. Their method includes adopting the carbon neutrality contribution framework.
The SBTN framework aims to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The SBTN framework aims to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Source: UPMBiofore

Mechanisms involved in advancing science-based targets

The mechanisms involved in advancing science-based targets follow transparent, consistent, and credible processes. Firstly, targets are set, with companies, organisations, and governing bodies drawing from the goals of the Paris Agreement and climate science to create science-based targets. Sector-specific guidance follows, exploring challenges and opportunities in developing and implementing science-based targets.

Lastly, the third mechanism pertains to robust and independent scientific assessment that builds the credibility of science-based targets. Having targets reviewed by third-party organisations, such as the Science-Based Targets Initiative, ensures that targets are aligned with the latest climate science and the goals of the Paris Agreement. Reporting and disclosure succeed in the review of the targets.

Companies, organisations, and governing bodies set science-based targets according to the Paris Agreement.
Companies, organisations, and governing bodies set science-based targets according to the Paris Agreement.
Source: Westpac.

Entities report their progress towards achieving science-based targets, which includes emissions data disclosures and interim targets. Finally, advancing SBTs requires collaboration and partnerships among different stakeholders, including companies, governments, civil society, and the scientific community. By working together, stakeholders can share knowledge and best practices, and by doing so, can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

is anyone achieving science-based targets?

Several countries and companies have made progress toward achieving science-based targets. They have done so by promoting efficient resource use, restoration, and adopting renewable energy:

  • Costa Rica: The country is gearing towards becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. Costa Rica’s commitment to promoting renewable energy, reforestation, and sustainable agriculture has contributed to a reduction in emissions of over 20% since 2005.
  • Denmark: By implementing a carbon tax and subsidies for renewable energy, Denmark has attained the highest proportion of wind energy globally. The country is targeting 70% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and endeavours to be carbon-neutral by 2050. 
  • Unilever: The company was able to halve its carbon footprint from its operations since 2010, and aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2039. Part of their strategy is to embrace renewable energy in their factories and collaborate with suppliers to reduce emissions across the company’s value chain.
  • Walmart: The retail giant is aiming to reduce absolute global scopes 1 & 2 GHG emissions by 35% by 2025 and 65% by 2030, compared with 2015. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) approved and classified this as science-based and 1.5°C-aligned. Walmart intends to power 50% of its global operations with renewable energy by 2025 and 100% by 2035. The increasing use of renewable energy in the company’s stores and distribution centres has helped achieve this target ahead of ‌schedule.

Science-based net zero strategies


This is a strategy where organisations invest in green projects or activities that reduce emissions elsewhere (Pineda et al., 2020). Despite its potential contribution to achieving science-based targets, offsetting should be used as a last resort after exhausting alternative strategies.

Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions (NBS) refer to actions that restore, protect, and sustainably manage natural or modified ecosystems to address the impacts of climate change (Pineda et al., 2020). This strategy plays an important role in fulfilling science-based targets, by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in addition to enhancing carbon sequestration through the services provided by ecosystems.

Australia's Net Zero Authority supports organisations striving to achieve science-based targets.
Australia’s Net Zero Authority supports organisations striving to achieve science-based targets.
Source: The Fifth Estate

Technical barriers to the adoption of science-based targets

Overcoming technical barriers requires collaborative effort and investment. One of the common problems when setting targets is the lack of data. This hinders the ability of entities to accurately measure their current emissions and develop targets. Limited expertise poses another challenge. Furthermore, since companies may need to make additional investments to comply with SBTs, resource constraints often create a barrier to achieving the targets. 

moving forward

Science-based targets provide a clear and measurable framework for governments and businesses in collectively setting emission reduction goals. These targets contribute to forming meaningful action guided by the latest science (Rull V. 2014). Moreover, SBTs are imperative to creating a culture of accountability and transparency, while demonstrating to stakeholders that organisations are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously.

While science-based targets are a valuable tool in combatting climate change and advocating for sustainability, they are not a silver bullet. To achieve each of these targets, organisations need to challenge the status quo, which will likely involve significant investments in more efficient technologies and green infrastructure. Furthermore, it will require collaborative and sustained efforts among various stakeholders to uphold their commitment to sustainability, so that it extends beyond short-term financial gains or reputation management.

why Is it essential that we focus on Science-Based targets?

The Science Based Goals project encourages businesses to demonstrate their climate leadership by publicly committing to science-based GHG reduction goals. The following three steps are essential to joining the movement and taking this vital stride toward a low-carbon economy.

Complete the commitment letter form: The submission of the ‘Commitment Letter’ confirms that your company is dedicated to establishing a science-based aim. Businesses that submit this letter will be recognised as “committed to setting a science-based target.”

Create a goal: Your company will have 24 months to create and publish a science-based agenda.

Declare your goal: The ‘Science Based Goal Form’ must be submitted by your entity. The given information allows the Science Based Targets team to assess the target against the eligibility requirements.

achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

World leaders agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 to achieve a more secure, cleaner, and more economical world by 2030. It is now up to all of us to work together to address the world’s most pressing issues and turn goals into action.

Sustainable development necessitates concentrated efforts to create a viable, inclusive, and resilient future for people and the planet. Balancing economic growth, social inclusion and environmental conservation is crucial to achieving the 17 SDGs. Further to this is the recognition that these factors are all interrelated, and important for the well-being of individuals and communities.

Poverty eradication in all of its forms and dimensions is a must for long-term development. Achieving sustainable, inclusive, and equitable economic growth is an essential part of the process. Therefore, there must be greater opportunities for all, the reduction of inequalities, the raising of basic living standards, the promotion of equitable social development and inclusion, and the promotion of integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.

THRIVE Framework

THRIVE Project adopts facts informed by natural and social sciences. At the core of THRIVE’s mission lies the implementation of solutions directed towards a prosperous path. Science-based targets are vital for spurring action that will build a climate-resilient society. THRIVE supports innovation where governments, businesses, and civil society can collectively contribute to protecting the planet.

To learn more about how the THRIVE Project is researching, educating, and advocating for a future beyond sustainability, visit our website. You can also follow our informative blog and podcast series and learn about our regular live webinars featuring expert guests in many different fields. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates.