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Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Board of Trustees’ decision on offsetting undermines science and endangers the climate

Carbon Market Watch strongly condemns the SBTi Board of Trustees’ announcement to recognise carbon credits as a way to “abate” scope 3 emissions. These indirect, value chain emissions usually make up the lion’s share of a company’s carbon footprint.

The Science Based Targets initiative appears to have buckled to pressure from carbon market players and corporate interests to allow companies to meet scope 3 targets with carbon credits, raising the risk that corporations can appear to be improving their climate performance on paper while actually spewing out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

This announcement came on the same day as the release of the 2024 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor which sounded the alarm about the damage to the climate this kind of flexibility would cause. 

“This decision defies both good governance and science. If it is not reversed, it will strip the SBTi of its ‘science-based’ nature and will mark a step back for voluntary climate initiatives globally,” says CMW Executive Director Sabine Frank. “By granting excessive flexibility to companies, SBTi will lose its raison d’être: promoting robust and effective corporate climate action.”

Science based no more

It is also a blow to the SBTI’s credibility, which prides itself on basing its policies on sound scientific principles. Targets cannot be science-based if they are not associated with deep internal emission reductions. Carbon Market Watch and other civil society organisations recently sent a joint letter to SBTI demanding that it does not allow companies to use carbon credits in this way.

In a violation of SBTi governance processes and the trust of stakeholders and partners, the SBTi board took this decision without clearly consulting with the SBTi Technical Council and overturned a key policy within the corporate target-validation organisation.

The SBTI initiated a call last year to gather evidence on the effectiveness of carbon credits in addressing climate action. In its announcement, the board acknowledges this but states that “the use of environmental attribute certificates for abatement purposes on Scope 3 emissions could function as an additional tool to tackle climate change”. 

Notably, the board did not state that this conclusion was drawn from analysing the results of the call for evidence. Given the strong body of peer-reviewed literature demonstrating the various shortcomings of carbon offsets, not to mention the multitude of investigations demonstrating the failures of a range of specific projects, it is highly unlikely that the analysis of the evidence submitted to SBTI would be consistent with the conclusion that the Board has come to.

This decision also risks dismantling the mitigation hierarchy (i.e. the prioritisation of rapid and deep emissions reductions) and is a leap backwards to a world where it was acceptable for companies to do nothing about their climate  impact while pretending to be green. 

“We will not applaud companies that cover up their inaction through the purchase of ineffective carbon credits,” concludes Frank. 

Carbon Market Watch calls on:

  1. The Board of Trustees to retract its decision and commit to upholding SBTi governance processes
  2. The SBTi, led by its operational team, to pursue its careful analysis of the evidence submitted to it as part of its call for evidence on the role of environmental attributes certificates and make the final analysis of this evidence public
  3. The SBTi founding organisations to initiate a review of the process that led to this decision and of their delegation of members to the Board of Trustees.

The SBTi’s founding organisations are: the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Global Compact.


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