Five Strategies for Reaching Net-Zero Emissions from the Science-Based Targets initiative

This year, some of the largest media firms based in the US and the UK, including Condé Nast, the BBC, and the Financial Times, are taking the lead with the necessary zero-carbon transition the world urgently needs by setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets developed by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Over 1700 firms have acted so far, with over 700 companies making commitments in line with 1.5°C.


In this article, the GHG emissions management experts at SINAI Technologies explore the SBTi's five strategies and actions your company can take to achieve net-zero emissions


Before diving into the five strategies, let's cover what precisely the SBTi is and the guiding principles that firms are following as they work towards achieving their science-based net-zero targets.


What is the Science-Based Targets initiative? 


Founded in 2015 by the World Resources Institute (WRI,) the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF,) Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and the United Nations Global Compact; the Science-Based Targets initiative, or SBTi, aims to drive ambitious climate action within the private sector by helping companies set science-based greenhouse (GHG) emissions reduction targets.


Science-based targets show firms how quickly they need to reduce their emissions to prevent climate change's most significant harm to the planet.


The SBTi does this by:


  • Defining and promoting best practices in emissions reductions and net-zero targets in line with the latest developments in climate science.
  • Providing expert resources and technical assistance to firms that set science-based targets.
  • Bringing together a team of experts to provide firms validation of the targets they set and independent assessment. 


The SBTi is also the lead partner of the Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign, which is an urgent call to action from industry and business leaders and a global coalition of UN agencies, bringing together companies to set net-zero science-based targets in line with a 1.5°C future.


Three guiding principles for science-based net-zero targets 


The SBTi puts forward three guiding principles that firms should follow to ensure that the net-zero targets they set lead to a state compatible with reaching the net-zero emissions required at the global level. They include:


  1. Reaching net-zero emissions where a firm's value chain results in no net increase of carbon and no net impact from any other greenhouse gas emissions. 
  1. In line with the best available and latest science, the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, firms should transition towards net-zero in line with mitigation pathways consistent with curbing warming to 1.5°C with no or minimal overshoot. 
  1. The firm's mitigation strategies should inform long-term investments and strategies that mitigate exposure to climate-related transition risks, ensuring the business model will continue to be practical in a net-zero economy. 


Five Strategies for reaching net-zero emissions 

Source: SBTi 


Strategy 1: Replacing abatement with carbon credits representing emission reduction

With this first strategy, emissions within a firm's value chain are reduced at a rate that is not aligned with the Paris-aligned emissions pathway. Carbon credits are bought in an amount equal to the firm's sustained value chain emissions.

This strategy represents a common approach adopted by firms to make carbon-neutral claims.

Aligned with the three principles? 

No, the Paris Agreement cannot be reached without stopping the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Retailing a high-emissions business model is also unlikely to meet the expectations of a firm's stakeholders. 

Strategy 2: Replacing abatement with avoided emissions 

With this second strategy, emissions in a firm's value chain are reduced at a rate that is not aligned with the Paris-aligned emissions pathway. Still, the firm claims that the products or services it sells reduce or avoid emissions outside of its value chain at an amount equal to its sustained value chain emissions.


This happens by comparing a higher-carbon reference product or service emissions with a lower-carbon or carbon-neutral alternative that a firm brings to the market, for instance, replacing coal-based electricity with renewable or gas-based electricity.

Aligned with the three principles? 

No, and as with the first strategy, this strategy doesn't allow for the Paris Agreement to be reached without stopping the collection of greenhouse gas emissions, and retailing a high-emissions business model is unlikely to meet the expectations of the firm's stakeholders. 

Strategy 3: Replacing abatement with negative emissions 

In this third strategy from the SBTi, value chain emissions are reduced at a scale that falls short of what's considered Paris-aligned and sustained emissions are balanced by CO2 sequestration and removal. This means that a firm relies heavily on CO2 removal to enable gross value chain emissions that surpass levels consistent with scenarios that meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Aligned with the three principles? 

Yes, and no. This strategy aligns with the first principle if CO2 sequestration is permanent. It does not align with the second principle as an overreliance on CO2 removal generates trade-offs with other social and environmental goals. It's uncertain if this strategy aligns with the third principle as an overreliance on negative emissions may not address stakeholder expectations. 

Strategy 4: Abatement of emissions in line with science 

Within the fourth strategy, value chain emissions decrease at a rate consistent with emissions pathways that meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Reducing emissions in line with science will bring emissions to zero for some emission sources or close to zero for other actions where some emission sources are unavoidable.

In scenarios that curb warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, the gross emissions of many economic activities reach zero by the time net-zero is achieved globally. On the other hand, some activities expect to keep residual emissions even when global emissions reach net-zero. In a science-based net-zero strategy, any sustained emissions are expected to be neutralized by the time global emissions reach net-zero.

Aligned with the three principles? 

Yes, if CO2 sequestration is permanent. 

Strategy 5: Climate positive approach  

In this fifth and final strategy, value chain emissions decrease at a rate in line with emissions pathways that meet the goal of the Paris Agreement, and sustained emissions are offset with carbon removal by the time net-zero is reached. In addition, the firm contributes to speeding up society's net-zero transition beyond its value chain, for example, by compensating all emissions released into the atmosphere while the firm transitions towards net-zero emissions.

Aligned with the three principles? 

Yes, this strategy aligns with all three principles if CO2 sequestration is permanent, as with the fourth strategy. 

Organize and compare emissions reduction opportunities easily 


If your company is looking for a simple way to implement one of the SBTi's five strategies and compare emissions reduction opportunities, consider SINAI's next-generation emissions management solution. 


Our software makes it possible to automate cost curves and generate accessible Marginal Abatement Cost Curves (MAC Curves) and Levelized Cost Curves. Compare and contrast marginal abatement costs of mitigation options across multiple areas of your firm while identifying the most cost-effective opportunities present for your firm. 


Reach out for a demo today.

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