Climate Essentials

What are science based targets?

SBTI flag
Ewa JozefkowiczContent Marketing Manager
Climate Essentials
08 February 2023

We explain what science based targets are, the benefits of adopting them, and some of the challenges that companies might face in setting them. 

⁠Science based targets (SBTs) are guidelines for companies looking to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change. But what exactly are SBTs, and why are they so important?

SBTs are emissions reduction targets that are in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. These targets are based on the latest climate science.

What are the main guidelines? 

  1. Science based targets must align with the level of decarbonization necessary to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. 

  2. Companies are encouraged to aim for even greater efforts, beyond the 2 degrees outlined by the Paris agreement, towards a 1.5-degree trajectory. 

  3. The targets should encompass scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. Scope 3 must also be included if these emissions make up 40% or more of your company's total emissions. 

  4. The targets should span a minimum of five years and a maximum of 15 years, and shouldn’t include emissions offsetting. 

  5. Emissions avoidance also doesn't count towards science based targets. 

  6. These targets must be created using the most recent methods and tools approved by the science based targets initiative.

  7. Progress towards the targets must be reported annually. 

What’s the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)?

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a partnership between four organizations: the Carbon TrustCDPWorld Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), that helps companies set science based targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. SBTi provides corporates, public sector bodies, and financial institutions with a methodology for setting their emissions reduction target in line with climate science.

How can companies set a science based target?

The process of setting science based targets usually involves the following steps:

1. Assess your company’s emissions

This includes measuring and reporting on your company’s current and potential greenhouse gas emissions using a standardized reporting tool, such as the GHG Protocol.

2. Determine your reduction potential

This step involves identifying your business’ potential to reduce emissions in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

3. Set the target

Based on your company’s emissions baseline and reduction potential, you then set a target that’s considered “science based”, meaning it aligns with the latest climate science.

4. Implement and monitor the target

Once a target is set, you should implement strategies and actions to reduce your company's emissions, and regularly monitor and report on your progress towards achieving the target.

5. Review and validate

You need to submit your targets for review by the SBTi. Once they’re approved, your company is officially recognized as having set a science based target.

It's worth visiting the official SBTi website for more sector specific guidance on target-setting.

What’s the SBTi Net-Zero Standard?

The SBTi Net-Zero Standard is a framework that helps companies set science based targets for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner. 

The process of setting corporate net-zero targets using the SBTi standard is similar to the regular process of setting a SBT, with some additional steps:

  • Identify your company’s reduction potential in line with the 1.5°C pathway

  • Assess and quantifying your company’s remaining emissions

  • Set a target for achieving net-zero emissions, including a plan for managing any remaining emissions through the use of carbon offsetting or removal.

What are the business benefits of adopting science based targets?

Driving innovation

Science based targets provide companies with a clear and ambitious goal to work towards, and a roadmap for decarbonization. This can help your company to drive innovation, increase efficiency, and identify new opportunities for growth.

SBTs can also help you to manage the risks associated with climate change, such as physical risks to assets, transition risks, and reputational risks. 

Communications and reputation

Worldwide, consumers are becoming increasingly climate-conscious which is why companies are very keen to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. Setting a science-based target shows a dedication to taking genuine climate action. As many as 79% of corporate leaders surveyed by STBi found a strengthened brand reputation to be one of the most significant business benefits for their company from committing to the Science Based Targets initiative.

Attracting new investment

Companies that set and achieve SBTs can also improve their access to capital by demonstrating to investors that they are well-positioned to manage the risks and opportunities associated with climate change. 

Cost savings

Companies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the latest climate science, can also identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption and eliminate waste in their operations. This in turn leads to savings on materials, water, and other resources.

What are the key challenges?

Data collection

One of the biggest challenges of adopting SBTs is collecting and reporting accurate data. This can be a time-consuming and complex process, as you need to navigate different reporting standards and methodologies. Some business and industry leaders may lack the expertise or resources to fully understand the latest climate science and how it applies to their operations and value chain. 

Planning of reduction activities

Another challenge is determining your company’s reduction potential which can be difficult, as you might not have a clear understanding of the emissions across your full value chain, meaning that you may struggle to identify areas where reductions can be made.

Resource issues

Limited internal resources and capabilities can also be a challenge. You might lack the resources or expertise needed to develop and implement strategies to reduce emissions and achieve targets. 


Uncertainty and risk are also significant challenges. Companies may be uncertain about the future and the potential risks and opportunities associated with different decarbonization pathways. 

Balancing competing priorities

Balancing competing priorities can also be a challenge. You might struggle to balance the need to reduce emissions with other business priorities such as growth, profitability, and competitiveness.

Stakeholder engagement

Finally, limited engagement from stakeholders can stand in the way of implementing SBTs. You might find it difficult to engage and communicate with investors, customers, and employees on the targets that you've set and the progress that you're making towards them.

So how do you get started? 

A dedicated carbon management platform can support you with all of the above challenges, walking you through every step of the process. 

Looking to get started with science based target setting? Sweep can help you identify your emissions hotspots and map a clearly defined pathway to decarbonization.

See how it works

More stories

Investor-Led Decarbonization: Driving Sustainability in Portfolio Companies
What is the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive?
What are the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS)?

Track, report and act

Sweep helps you get your carbon on-track

Sign up to The Cleanup, our monthly climate newsletter