As the climate crisis became more acute, many companies began to set emission reduction targets. But a problem emerged. Many of the targets had nothing to do with climate science, and weren’t strong enough to make a difference to global CO2 levels in time. The Science Based Targets Initiative formed as a corrective, requiring companies to set their targets at levels that were in line with what climate scientists said were required. To date, nearly 1,000 companies have signed on and 450 have had their commitments approved. Now the Science Based Targets Network, a newly formed umbrella organization, is taking on a new challenge: how businesses and cities can protect and restore nature in line with science.
“We’re currently living on the capacity of approximately two Earths, when we only have one,” says Erin Billman, executive director of the Science Based Targets Network. As the UN’s recent Global Biodiversity Outlook report outlines, humanity is at a crossroads, facing unprecedented biodiversity loss. A previous report warned that one million species are at risk of extinction. The basic life support systems for humans, from growing food to having clean water to drink, are under threat. And businesses are increasingly realizing that they need to address the problem. “Companies and, and cities have been asking for consensus guidance on how do [they] do [their] part,” she says. “What are the overarching goals? And how do we measure them?”
The network is still developing its methodology, with some pieces in progress (it wants to use guidance from the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is currently still being drafted, for example). But it’s already beginning to work with companies on making commitments, recognizing that there’s a need to act as quickly as possible. The network’s guidance helps companies understand how to assess their impact on nature, prioritize solutions, and then measure how they’re reducing their impact to become “nature-positive.” Some of the companies, interestingly, don’t yet have science-based targets for climate change, but are moving forward with work on biodiversity.
Voluntary commitments from corporations can’t fully protect nature on its own, but it’s part of the solution. “We see that as necessary,” Billman says. “It’s insufficient in terms of the broader societal change, but we also can’t sit and wait for policy and international agreements because we see that it isn’t happening, and it isn’t happening fast enough or at a level that’s transformational enough. And meanwhile, we do have some leading companies and cities that want to be cutting edge in this space.” As businesses become more ambitious in their environmental goals, it can also help push policy forward, she says. “We believe that there could be an ambition loop, where corporate action helps drive policy ambition. That can lead to the kind of enabling policy that’s needed for the broader change.”