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Science-based targets: On target?

04 February, 2021

Science-based targets: On target?

Jannik Giesekam

Jonathan Norman

Alice Garvey

Sam Betts-Davies

Research paper   Materials & Products

Jannik Giesekam, Jonathan Norman, Alice Garvey and Sam Betts-Davies


Companies are increasingly seeking to align their actions with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Over 1000 such companies have committed to the science-based targets initiative which seeks to align corporate carbon reduction targets with global decarbonisation trajectories. These ‘science-based targets’ are developed using a common set of resources and target-setting methodologies, then independently assessed and approved by a technical advisory group. Despite the initiative’s rapid rise to public prominence, it has received little attention to date in the academic literature. This paper discusses development of the initiative based upon a quantitative assessment of progress against each component of the science-based targets set by 81 early adopters, using information gathered from company annual reports, corporate social responsibility websites and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) responses. The analysis reveals a mixed picture of progress. Though the majority of targets assessed were on track and, in some cases, had already been achieved, just under half of the companies assessed were falling behind on one or more of their targets. Progress varied significantly by target scope, with more limited progress against targets focused on Scope 3 emissions. Company reporting practices were highly variable and often of poor quality. This paper concludes with a range of recommendations to improve the transparency, consistency and comparability of targets within this key agenda-setting initiative.

Publication details

Giesekam, J., Norman, J., Garvey, A. and Betts-Davies, S. 2021. Science-based targets: On target? Sustainability, 13 (4): 1657. doi: 10.3390/su13041657Opens in a new tab  

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