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The Promise of Science-Based Targets for Nature

  • Date: 24 May 2023
  • Author: Martha Stevenson, Senior Director of Strategy and Research

Today, the Science Based Targets Network released its first version of nature targets. This is a significant step in uniting the world’s leading companies to stabilize the climate, preserve freshwater resources, regenerate land, secure healthy oceans, and support biodiversity.

We know that business as usual can’t continue. We are exceeding planetary boundaries – the points of no return for nature, climate, and humanity as we know them. You only need to turn to the news to see the devastating effects: wildfires in the boreal, droughts in eastern Brazil, and the empty forests of the Congo, once teeming with biodiversity. These harbingers of what’s to come reflect an ecological system out of balance.

Companies rely on a healthy planet (including freshwater, oceans, land, and biodiversity) and a healthy workforce. There is significant material risk to their operations, supply chains, and consumers if they don’t act urgently on both nature and climate. Recent studies published by WWF, BCG and the World Economic Forum all reflect the growing consensus of the risks to business from the loss and degradation of ecosystems. Nature-related and climate-related risks are inextricably linked as climate change drives the loss of nature and nature loss drives climate change. For this reason, business must address them together.

Thousands of businesses have demonstrated tremendous progress by setting and acting on science-based targets for climate. These companies are decarbonizing with innovation and speed, many at twice the rate required to achieve net zero by 2050. While fast action on science-based targets for climate does reap benefits for nature, such as the biodiversity and ecological benefits of more sustainably managed farms and forests, it’s often an afterthought.

“From mining rare earths to tree planting, nature, with her long memory and stern sense of justice (to paraphrase Wendell Berry), is fundamental to our success in addressing these risks.”

Martha Stevenson
Senior Director of Strategy and Research

More concerning is that the increased focus on carbon removals and proliferation of carbon offsets in place of absolute carbon reductions threatens a race to the bottom. We’ve seen in recent years a focus on questionable mitigation solutions, such as fast-growing, tree-carbon plantations, which yield hazy climate benefits and instead push negative consequences to nature and local communities.

It’s now time to directly address the nature side of the equation. Developing science-based targets for nature allows us to rebalance the transactional nature of carbon accounting and stop treating biodiversity and nature’s contribution to people as “co-benefits.” Instead, the targets are designed for nature and the people who depend on it.

The science-based targets for nature have several components that make them impactful. First, they align corporate ambition with action where it’s needed most – in critical landscapes. Second, they create a new incentive structure that builds nature, people, and climate at the center of the action. Science-based targets are designed to regain and retain the ecological function of landscapes, engage communities in solutions, and invest in enabling conditions for true transformational change. This balanced approach will deliver outcomes aligned with the broader ambition of the UN environmental conditions and the Sustainable Development Goals. And third, by developing methodologies and guidance across freshwater, land, oceans, biodiversity aligned with climate, the science-based targets promote an integrated approach, to fast-track win-win solutions and limit greenwashing. Whether it has been an explicit goal or not, most leading companies have already been working on nature through their climate and sustainable sourcing commitments. It’s now time for them to take a more rigorous approach to ensure that they are making the right impact for nature.

With widespread uptake of the science-based targets for nature we can help keep nature intact, which in turn keeps carbon in the ground, preserves the ability of ecosystems to absorb emissions, protects biodiversity, and delivers benefits to people and communities who rely on landscapes and seascapes.

The science-based targets for nature can serve as a compass to guide the action that we all need to see. We urge companies to act now on their science-based targets for nature to safeguard the future for people and nature.