New York — WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff released a guide introducing the science-based approach for setting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. The new guide is a primer on setting GHG targets that are informed by climate science. It is intended to help sustainability practitioners responsible for energy and GHG management understand the context of science-based target setting, the tools available to support the target setting process, and a potential approach for developing a science-based target.

The WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff guide provides companies with a step-by-step process for setting a science-based GHG reduction target. “Several factors have recently raised the profile of science-based targets,” noted Eric Christensen, practice leader, sustainability and energy at WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff. “The release of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Assessment Report (AR5), the development of Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), the outcome of COP21 in Paris, and the inclusion of questions related to science-based targets in CDP’s Climate Change information request have all contributed to heightened corporate interest. We anticipate that 2016 will be a watershed year for companies announcing their commitment to science-based GHG reduction targets.”

While many organizations have conventionally set GHG reduction targets based on regulatory requirements, past performance, peer performance and/or in response to guidance from industry-specific benchmarks, often these targets align with levels of performance that are conservative and reasonably achievable, irrespective of whether the resulting emissions reductions will limit impacts associated with climate change.

As an alternative, science-based targets start from the premise that global emitters must limit emissions within a certain cumulative threshold to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The targets are defined based on a share of the global emissions limit allocated to companies according to factors such as the company’s economic productivity, carbon intensity, or a combination of both.

In its latest AR5 report, the IPCC identified a scenario that will likely limit global warming to an increase of 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This scenario sets a total emissions limit that must not be exceeded over the coming decades and forms the basis for science-based emissions reduction targets.

The SBTI (led by CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund) defines science-based targets as those that are “in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep a global temperature increase below 2°C, compared to pre-industrial temperatures.” At the organization-level, science-based targets reflect a company’s share of required global emissions reductions.