Frequently asked questions about setting a scope 3 science-based target

According to the Paris Agreement, we need to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century to avoid catastrophic climate change. One way to translate from this requirement to corporate, transformational climate action is to set targets aligned to current climate science. Science-based targets provide you with a clearly defined pathway that specifies how much and how quickly you need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In previous blog posts, I talked about general requirements in setting a science-based target; in this article, I’m answering commonly asked questions for developing a science-based target for your scope 3 emissions.

Do we have to set a science-based target for our scope 3 emissions?

According to the SBTi, you only need to set a science-based target for your scope 3 emissions if they are larger than 40% of your overall carbon footprint.

Does a scope 3 science-based target need to cover all scope 3 emissions?

Your scope 3 target boundary should collectively cover at least two-thirds of your total scope 3 emissions.

Does our scope 3 science-based target have to be absolute-based, or can it be intensity-based?

Your scope 3 target can be absolute, intensity or engagement-based.

Absolute-based means that you have to achieve emissions reduction from a certain baseline by a target year. Here is an example of an absolute-based reduction target for a scope 3 emission source: ‘Siemens AG commits to reduce absolute scope 3 GHG emissions 15% by 2030 from a 2019 base year.’

Intensity-based means that you have to achieve emissions reduction based on a metric such as ‘unit of production’, e.g., ‘tonnes’ if you are a manufacturer. Here is an example of an intensity-based reduction target for a scope 3 emission source: ‘Reduce GHG emissions per tonne of product by 30% by 2030 from a 2017 base year.’

Engagement-based means that you are engaging your value chain partners in settings SBTs, meaning that you are requesting your suppliers to set their own science-based targets. Supplier or customer engagement targets may be valuable if you

  • have yet to identify levers for more specific reduction opportunities amongst your value chain partners
  • you have mostly indirect expenditure and therefore don’t spend enough on individual suppliers to support collaborative reduction efforts.

It’s best not to use supplier engagement targets when the majority of emissions from purchased products and services come from tier 2 suppliers or suppliers even further removed from you, as you may not be able to influence emissions reduction.

Here is an example of a supplier engagement target: ‘Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Limited commits that 87% of suppliers by spend covering purchased goods and services and the use of sold products will have science-based targets by FY2024.’

Do scope 3 science-based targets need to be as ambitious as scope 1 and scope 2?

SBTi encourages you to set scope 3 targets using the same science-based methods required for scope 1 and scope 2; however, SBTi also accepts targets that it deems ‘ambitious’.

If your target is absolute-based, the minimum ambition is a 1.23% annual linear reduction (please note that this is different from the 2-degree pathway for scopes 1 and 2), but you are encouraged to pursue a 4.2% annual linear reduction.

If your target is intensity-based, you need to cap absolute emissions at a base year level and achieve a physical intensity reduction at a minimum rate of 2% in annual linear terms. For example, if you commit to reducing GHG emissions per tonne of product by 30% by 2030 from a 2017 base year, this is a 30 ÷ 13 = 2.31% intensity reduction in annual linear terms. 2.31% meets SBTi’s minimum physical intensity improvement requirement.

If your target is engagement-based, you must meet the target within five years to ensure timely emissions reductions.

Where can you get help?

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their carbon footprint and emissions reduction strategies. If you need help with your Climate Action Strategy, or setting targets in line with science, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

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