First-Ever Net-Zero Certification Service Hopes to Increase Climate Accountability

The first certification service to offer companies around the world an independent assessment of their net-zero targets launched Thursday.

Animal protein companies have come under increasing pressure about greenwashing their planned emission reductions, and net-zero targets and the certification might help highlight which meat and dairy companies are making sincere efforts, said Nusa Urbancic of sustainability NGO, Changing Markets Foundation, and co-author of a new methane action ranking for meat and dairy companies.

In its launch statement, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) certification service said it aims to address the problem of companies self-defining their net-zero targets without any “credible and independent assessment of their ambition and integrity.”

The service offers companies “robust certification” capable of demonstrating to “consumers, investors, and regulators” that their net-zero target will reduce emissions “at the pace and scale required to keep global warming to 1.5°C,” said SBTi co-founder, Alberto Carrillo Pineda.

Pineda told Sentient Media that the SBTi certification was not a label, rather “companies submit targets for validation, and we have a team of analysts who review those targets and then we validate that, or not, and then a certification is issued, or not.”

The cost of the certification service is a one-off payment of $4,900. The fee has been kept deliberately low to avoid creating a barrier to the service, Pineda said.

Asked about livestock agriculture Pineda told Sentient Media it was “feasible and urgent” to decarbonize land-intensive processes, including agriculture “if we want to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C, and avoid a catastrophic climate breakdown.”

To specifically address the agri-sector, Pineda said SBTi “is developing comprehensive guidance on accounting and target setting for companies to fully incorporate deforestation and other land-related emissions in near- and long-term science-based targets.”

Companies adopting the SBTi Net-Zero Standard will be required to set “both near- and long-term science-based targets across all scopes.” Scopes 1, 2, and 3 are the internationally recognized categorizations for the different sources of carbon emissions.  

Broadly speaking, scope 1 covers the direct day-to-day emissions made by a company. Scope 2 covers the indirect emissions, for example from the energy a company buys to power its operations. Scope 3 covers supply chain emissions—the emissions created by the products the company buys from suppliers.

For most companies the “vast majority of their emissions lies in their supply chains and not in their direct operations,” said Urbancic.

Asked if the certification program might help highlight the livestock companies that are making real emission reduction commitments Urbancic said “a truly ambitious certification could potentially help” but, she said legislation obliging “these big multinational corporations to set up and deliver” was preferable. 

Urbancic said her research indicates that only three of the 20 largest meat and dairy companies include scope 3 emissions in their targets or reporting.

When they do have targets, she said, meat and dairy companies tend to opt for an emission intensity target. “Which means that they can increase their production volumes, as long as they reduce the emissions per unit,” said Urbancic. “This is very problematic, as it might not lead to any absolute emissions reduction.” 

Responding to questions about how it would handle emissions intensity targets submitted by companies, Pineda did not rule them out but said SBTi advises setting “absolute reduction targets” and said the goal is to ensure that reduction plans “actually reduce overall emissions in the sector.”

The SBTi Net-Zero Standard certification plans to cover both near-term emissions reductions targets over the upcoming five to 10 years and longer-term emissions reductions to 2050.

SBTi said its emissions reductions targets certification will be in line with the latest climate science and aims to help companies to halve emissions before 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions before 2050. SBTi said it had already certified several companies including America’s CVS Health, Denmark’s Ørsted, a renewable energy company, India’s Wipro, an IT company, and UK COVID-19 vaccine maker AstraZeneca.

SBTi is a partnership between environmental NGO, CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Its certification program is financed from a range of sources including IKEA, the Bezos Earth Fund, and The Rockefeller Brothers Fund.