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 might mean protecting and enhancing biodiversity. It might 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 resembling 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 one of the best practice approach to corporate decarbonization. Nonetheless, recent blogs from SBTi are unequivocal of their insistence that firms must also undertake urgent motion beyond their value chains if society is to have any probability of reaching net zero by 2050.  

Latest guidance on beyond value chain mitigation (BVCM) is promised next 12 months, but SBTi urges firms 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 constantly 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 major clarification of its position on BVCM and a transparent endorsement that actions resembling protecting tropical forests should not only vital, but urgent.  

And why is that this so necessary? 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 business 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 up to now; equating to roughly 222,400 acres of tropical forest that might have been protected. Others within the carbon ecosystem could 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 slightly than essential and subsequently not something they will justify to their boards. Second, and maybe more significant, has been the perception that SBTi advises firms to prioritize carbon removals (tree planting) over CO2 reductions (forest protection) in any respect points along the journey to net zero. This, the truth is, is a misinterpretation of SBTi’s requirement for everlasting removals to mitigate any remaining emissions at the tip of an organization’s net-zero journey, in 2040 or 2050. Not today. 

SBTi itself says, “BVCM isn’t 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.  

However it’s necessary that SBTi is taking steps to make clear its position. Its guidance isn’t any longer open to doubt or misinterpretation — BVCM is significant.

There at the moment are a lot of additional actions from SBTi that might 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 needs to be much more ambitious in promoting and defending BVCM and search for opportunities to publicly support BVCM by clarifying the necessary 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 have fun firms taking motion 

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

For instance, SBTi’s website currently includes a dashboard featuring firms with science-based targets and commitments. Why not add firms investing in BVCM? This might showcase people who meet a stipulated minimum level of ambition and provides extra recognition to people 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 may recognize the precious role that protecting carbon sinks resembling tropical forests and peatlands can play and take away any confusion that removals needs to be prioritized over reduction on an organization’s journey to net zero.

There isn’t any 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 offer clear guidance to those firms, enable them to show that their BVCM activities are in step with latest advice and open up the potential for them to hitch high-integrity coalitions resembling LEAF.  

SBTi is in the proper 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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