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H&M, Kering Among Companies Piloting Science-Based Targets for Nature

The move to address businesses’ impact on nature is part of a new frontier of corporate environmental reporting.
Emissions from a factory.
The move to address businesses’ impact on nature is part of a new frontier of corporate environmental reporting. (Shutterstock)

Businesses can now assess their impacts on nature loss using science-based targets as part of a move to “get nature into the boardroom.”

Research shows that the biodiversity crisis is as serious as the climate crisis, yet there is less information about how companies drive nature loss, because this data is not being disclosed. The Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) is providing the first framework for companies to report their impacts on nature as part a new frontier of corporate environmental reporting.

SBTN is releasing guidance for companies measuring how they contribute to land degradation, and the use and pollution of freshwater. Companies can then work out what impacts they should focus on reducing and what targets they can set to achieve that. Reporting systems for oceans and species abundance are still being worked on and are to be released in the coming year.

Already, more than 2,600 companies report on their carbon emissions using science-based targets, and the new framework is part of a move to make business take account of nature in the same way. Erin Billman, executive director of SBTN, said: “We are in the midst of interconnected crises. We cannot limit global warming to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels] without addressing nature loss, and we cannot halt and reverse nature loss without a stable climate.”

The UN says businesses should assess and disclose their impacts on nature by 2030, and the idea of the SBTN is to ensure that there is consensus on how companies do that. Billman said: “It’s moving nature into the boardroom… there is enough information for companies to be able to assess and prioritise where to take action.”

As part of the pilot release, 17 companies, including H&M, Kering, Nestlé and Tesco, will submit data on their impacts on nature by the end of the year. Those targets will be validated as in line with science-based targets from early 2024. Other companies can also submit data starting now, with validation starting next year.

SBTN will validate targets if they align with the overarching UN aim of halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. Only once its targets have been validated can a company can say it has set science-based targets for nature.

According to Sophus zu Ermgassen, an ecological economist from the University of Oxford, developing a protocol for companies to set targets to reduce their impacts on nature could represent progress.

He said: “Until companies start setting targets and reporting their progress towards those targets publicly, the public will not be able to hold the largest companies to account for their impacts on biodiversity… But the devil is in the detail, especially regarding what happens if companies fail to meet their objectives.”

Zu Ermgassen argues that voluntary disclosures from companies are no substitute for strong state action to stop investment in environmentally damaging activity. He said: “We can’t rely on voluntary reporting alone to change the ecological impacts of the economy or fundamentally reduce the impacts of firms’ business models without a regulatory environment that incentivises doing the right thing for nature and not profiting from its degradation.”

The most recent assessment of biodiversity commitments by the world’s largest 100 companies found that only 10 had explicit biodiversity commitments. Disclosing impacts on nature is much more complicated than reporting climate impacts, which have one set of metrics – greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiversity is based on a number of different metrics and data sources, which not even ecologists can agree on.

Companies will have different impacts and targets depending on the nature of their business, so there is no one overarching nature target, as there is for climate. There will be separate targets for freshwater use, pollution, land use change, climate change, and so on.

The framework is a work in progress and is not expected to be completed until 2025. More than 100 companies have been involved in developing the methods and guidance. SBTN is providing companies with guidance on how to set science-based targets and is working alongside the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, which is creating a framework for companies to manage and disclose their impacts. Both frameworks are still in development.

By Phoebe Weston

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