Carbon Management

Target setting and carbon emissions

At current levels, carbon emissions will lead to devastating levels of climate change, and as a result governments and businesses are pledging to reduce their emissions in a race against time. When it comes to managing and reducing carbon emissions, it is nearly impossible without targets to track progress and keep a company on course. Here, Minimum explains carbon target setting and how to implement it. 

What are carbon targets?

Carbon targets are specific goals or objectives set by individuals, organizations, cities, countries, or international agreements to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon targets are usually expressed as a reduction in emissions over a certain period of time, and are often compared to a baseline year. Carbon targets set at a few different levels, including: 

  • National targets -  Countries often set specific targets for reducing carbon emissions by a certain percentage or absolute amount by a particular year.
  • Organizational targets - Through environmental management plans or corporate social responsibility initiatives, businesses and organizations may set their own carbon reduction targets.
  • Regional targets - Cities and regions may also set carbon reduction targets to address localized challenges and promote sustainable urban development.
  • Sector-specific targets -  Some industries or sectors (such as energy, transportation, and agriculture) might establish specific targets to reduce their carbon footprint and transition towards cleaner practices.

A more ambitious carbon target is the idea of achieving "net-zero emissions," wherein the goal is to balance the emissions produced by an entity with the removal of an equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere. For example, an organization might invest in energy efficiency strategies such as renewable energy, carbon offset projects or carbon capture.

What are the 2030 carbon targets?

Currently, under the European Commission, there are a number of targets that EU member states are tasked with contributing to before 2030. Those targets include: 

The carbon landscape is continually evolving, and as with changing carbon standards, the 2030 target may also be changing too. For example, the original reduction target set for greenhouse gas emissions was 40%, but the need for rapid action meant that the EU Commission increased this to 55% as of 2021.

What are the benefits of having a carbon target?

Implementing carbon targets within an organization can bring numerous benefits, both for the company itself and for the broader environment and society. Some of the key benefits of setting carbon targets within an organization include:

Enhanced reputation and stakeholder relationships

Carbon targets can strengthen relationships with stakeholders, including customers, investors, employees, and local communities, who increasingly prioritize sustainable practices in the organizations they support.

Focused approach to reduction

Carefully considered carbon targets enable a more strategic and impactful approach to carbon emission reduction, by focussing on the most impactful areas, or investing in projects that will lead to the largest reductions.

Speed of implementation

Acting now will help businesses get ahead of future emission reduction legislation, and may enable future cost savings. It will also ensure that organizations are less likely to receive costly fines for non-compliance with regulations.

It is an essential step for businesses to become more environmentally responsible and sustainable in the face of growing climate challenges, as not doing so can also have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. 

Best practice for setting carbon targets

The leading framework for setting a corporate carbon reduction target is the Science Based Targets Initiative  - also known as SBT. The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a collaborative effort between several organizations, including CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 

An SBT will define a target year and percentage reduction target to hit by that year - not so dissimilar to the method set by the EU Commission. The Science-Based Targets Initiative encourages organizations to set longer term net-zero targets, and provides a framework and guidelines to help them do that. They set targets that are scientifically aligned with limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The SBTi will verify and approve corporate targets for a fee, however businesses are still encouraged and able to set targets in line with their guidelines. The verification adds additional credibility and accountability so is best practice for organizations looking to drastically reduce their carbon output. 

How to set and implement a carbon target?

Setting and implementing a carbon target involves a structured and comprehensive approach to reduce an organization's greenhouse gas emissions. It has to be a considered approach, as the targets should be ambitious yet achievable, and all stakeholders necessary to hit the target should be brought on the journey too to enable effective implementation. Every organization is different, but the steps towards setting and implementing a carbon target are roughly the same:

Step 1: Assessment

A target cannot be set without a good understanding of where your business’ carbon footprint is today - so a robust carbon footprint calculation is essential before setting any targets. The company needs to assess its current greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain (Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions) and establish a baseline year.

Step 2: Target setting

 Using the initiative's methodology and guidelines, the company needs to set emission reduction targets that are consistent with limiting global warming to the specified levels. These targets are validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative to ensure they meet the necessary criteria, but halving emissions by 2030 must be the overarching priority for companies, with longer term Net Zero goals.

Step 3: Implementation

Businesses should then follow the best practice guidance from the SBTi to develop the required level of carbon reduction in order to align with the Paris Agreement.This may involve adopting energy-efficient practices, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and making other operational changes to reduce emissions. This will equip companies with a view of what target they need to hit by their chosen end date, as well as an annual reduction target.

Step 4: Monitoring and reporting

The business must then work with all areas of the company to develop reduction plans, and measure and monitor progress regularly in order to stay on course. The organization must regularly track its progress toward meeting the science-based targets and report its emissions reductions transparently to consumers and stakeholders.

How Minimum can help

Minimum can help organizations to understand their existing carbon output, and create plans to mitigate climate related risks in the future.  Our Emissions Data Platform seamlessly collects and processes emissions data from every corner of your organization and supply chain - no matter the format. Making it the ideal platform for emissions audits and all-round business intelligence. 

Learn more about how Minimum's Emission Data Platform can help to power you all the way to Net Zero today.