How SBTi could unlock billions of corporate dollars to protect forests

[GreenBiz publishes a range of perspectives on the transition to a clean economy. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position of GreenBiz.]

What would billions of dollars of additional climate finance from corporations mean for the world’s forests? It will mean protecting and enhancing biodiversity. It will mean supporting the hundreds of thousands of people that depend on forests for his or her livelihoods and call them home. And ultimately it could mean ending tropical deforestation by 2030 and helping the world stay on a 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. What’s holding this back is sustained confusion over guidance issued by credible bodies akin to the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) on the role that protecting forests should play on an organization’s road to net zero. But hopefully that is now changing.  

The SBTi’s strong advocacy of deep value chain emissions reductions has played a significant role in shaping corporate climate motion and is rightly seen as the perfect practice approach to corporate decarbonization. Nonetheless, recent blogs from SBTi are unequivocal of their insistence that corporations must also undertake urgent motion beyond their value chains if society is to have any likelihood of reaching net zero by 2050.  

Recent guidance on beyond value chain mitigation (BVCM) is promised next yr, but SBTi urges corporations not to attend and to take motion now, with protection of tropical forests identified as one priority. 

In a blog published Aug. 31, SBTi advised: “Urgently reducing value chain emissions and contributing to BVCM together will help reserve the remaining carbon budget that’s repeatedly shrinking.” 

The follow-up piece, published Sept. 13, further highlighted the necessity to protect tropical forests. The authors wrote: “Even when every company adopted and implemented a science-based goal, there are no current trajectories for staying below 1.5 degrees C without protecting the world’s remaining tropical forests.” 

While not exactly an about-turn by SBTi, this does represent a big clarification of its position on BVCM and a transparent endorsement that actions akin to protecting tropical forests will not be only vital, but urgent.  

And why is that this so vital? Many respected NGOs and climate scientists have been pressing this argument for years. The reply lies in SBTi’s strong influence over corporate climate policy and its capability to drive much needed motion. 

My predominant role, as chief industrial officer of Emergent, is to enroll corporations to The LEAF Coalition, the world’s largest public-private coalition to conserve tropical forests. Time and time again, in conversations with sustainability officers, their interpretation of SBTi advice on BVCM has proved to be a blocker to investment in forest protection. I feel this has stopped as many as 25 corporations signing as much as the LEAF Coalition, depriving forests of around $450 million in climate finance. That’s nearly half of the $1 billion raised by the LEAF Coalition thus far; equating to roughly 222,400 acres of tropical forest that would have been protected. Others within the carbon ecosystem may have similar stories to inform. [Editor’s note: The author’s company, Emergent, is coordinator of the LEAF Coalition.]  

Typically, sustainability officers raise two issues. First, that SBTi’s guidance on BVCM is really helpful somewhat than essential and subsequently not something they’ll justify to their boards. Second, and maybe more significant, has been the perception that SBTi advises corporations to prioritize carbon removals (tree planting) over CO2 reductions (forest protection) in any respect points along the journey to net zero. This, in truth, is a misinterpretation of SBTi’s requirement for everlasting removals to mitigate any remaining emissions at the top of an organization’s net-zero journey, in 2040 or 2050. Not today. 

SBTi itself says, “BVCM shouldn’t be limited to removals. BVCM activities can avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or remove and store greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.”

To be fair to corporations, some misinterpretation is to be expected. Advice on BVCM from SBTi and others has been evolving rapidly because the urgency of the climate crisis has turn into more apparent.  

But it surely’s vital that SBTi is taking steps to make clear its position. Its guidance isn’t any longer open to doubt or misinterpretation — BVCM is important.

There at the moment are various additional actions from SBTi that would help speed up corporate motion. 

Communicate the BVCM position more widely and robustly  

One blog, or perhaps a series, won’t be enough to correct the deep-rooted misconceptions. SBTi must be much more ambitious in promoting and defending BVCM and search for opportunities to publicly support BVCM by clarifying the vital role it plays. This includes updating historical guidance to exchange all mentions of optionality with the popularity that BVCM is each vital and urgent.  

Recognize and rejoice corporations taking motion 

In a recent survey conducted by Systemiq on behalf of SBTi, over half of corporate respondents agreed that SBTi should play a task in enabling transparency (scoring/rating) to incentivize corporations to have interaction in BVCM. Corporations making high-integrity investments in mitigation activity beyond their value chains should get recognition for doing so.

For instance, SBTi’s website currently incorporates a dashboard featuring corporations with science-based targets and commitments. Why not add corporations investing in BVCM? This might showcase those who meet a stipulated minimum level of ambition and provides extra recognition to those who go above and beyond. 

Broaden the scope of neutralization 

SBTi should include emissions reductions, alongside removals as a tool to neutralize residual emissions. This might recognize the invaluable role that protecting carbon sinks akin to tropical forests and peatlands can play and take away any confusion that removals must be prioritized over reduction on an organization’s journey to net zero.

There is no such thing as a harm in postponing the requirement to prioritize removals for neutralization until it is obvious that the battle to halt and reverse deforestation has been won. Investment in reductions as much as the purpose of corporate net zero and beyond, with high-integrity forest carbon credits, will profit the climate in addition to protecting biodiversity. As such, it could form a core pillar of an organization’s nature positive strategy. 

Bring more corporations into the fold 

The LEAF Coalition has already announced $1 billion in funding to guard forests, and more is to come back. But billions more dollars in additional climate finance are tied to unfinished guidance on hard-to-abate sectors. SBTi should speed up this work to present clear guidance to those corporations, enable them to show that their BVCM activities are consistent with latest advice and open up the potential for them to hitch high-integrity coalitions akin to LEAF.  

SBTi is in the right position to take the lead. To drive an uplift in beyond value chain motion in parallel with deep value chain cuts and to speed up the company climate ambition needed to assist the world stay on a 1.5 C pathway. The necessity is urgent. The time is now.


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