Experts around the world agree that action against climate change must not only be taken but increased. It’s clear that everyone around the world has a stake in this game, be it individuals, governments, and businesses across every sector. But what’s not always clear is how exactly we can take action that truly moves the needle.
The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) was born from this problem, and the organisation provides companies and financial institutions with guidance on how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to reach Net Zero by 2050. The initiative offers up guidance for nearly every sector, from apparel and footwear to power and information technology.
Up until last week, they had yet to provide a framework for one critical sector: forests, land, and agriculture.
“Land use emissions account for 22% of global emissions,” says Palladium’s Tom Gegg. “Land is a big deal and for a long time, guidance was pending from SBTi, and now that they’ve published it, it could make a huge difference.”
But why was it so difficult? According to Gegg, unlike many other sectors, land use, such as sectors like beef, palm oil, dairy, poultry, and timber, is not only a source of carbon emissions, but also a solution to it. “You can use land to sequester carbon emissions, making it about 37% of the solution, which is unique when you compare it to the others.”
Additionally, the sector is one of the industries at the highest risk from the impacts of climate change. Simply put, it has a lot to lose if action isn’t taken. The guidance is the world’s first standard method for companies looking to set science-based targets in land-intensive sectors, such as food, agriculture, and forestry. It includes mitigation pathways for major commodities with high carbon footprints and provides a framework for companies looking to decarbonise and develop a net-zero target.
While it’s major organisations that are signing up to SBTi, what Gegg notes is that the targets they set will inevitably trickle down to smaller suppliers and producers like smallholder farmers around the world, who will benefit from shifting to more sustainable practices. “The big companies that sign up to the guidance will need to reduce their emissions by 3% every year and one of the first ways they can do that is by working with their suppliers on solutions.”
“Eventually, these big companies will be asking all farmers in their value chain to produce low emissions proteins, fibre, and crops. In the tropics, this will mean stopping deforestation by finding ways to produce food while preserving remaining forests and regenerating damaged landscapes. In other areas of the world this will mean shifting to lower emission farming techniques.” It will be a challenge he adds, but there are plenty of solutions already in use and at the ready.
Perhaps most importantly and excitingly, because land-use also offers up a solution to emissions, the SBTi guidance will help push forward a more accessible market for farmers to sell both their food produce and their emissions reduction services to the same buyers. “This is a huge opportunity for farmers,” says Gegg. Carbon is a commodity on its own and the carbon that a farmer reduces or sequesters can be traded as a product separately from the actual produce grown.
“What’s critical about the SBTi guidance is that it offers an opportunity for farmers to access a second income stream. In the future, they could be selling two things: food produce and emissions reduction services.” Gegg adds that there will be two options for doing this. The first, and most straightforward, is to simply add a premium onto the price of food as a reward to progressive farmers taking climate action, like the dairy co-operative Arla Foods just announced it would be doing as an incentive for its farmers to meet new environmental sustainability targets.
The second is to formally account for and verify the emissions savings achieved by farmers, so that they can sell the resulting carbon credits at market prices. This second option means that big supermarkets and commodity traders will purchase food produce and carbon credits as two separate items, potentially generating significant extra revenues for farmers along the supply chain. “This means that both small and major players in the food and land use sector can use carbon markets as a mechanism to clean up their supply chains.”
It’s not quite as simple as that, and farmers and corporations alike will need guidance and enormous support on how to get there, but the latest news from SBTi is an important step in shifting the conversation around land-use and providing measurable targets on a journey towards net zero. Because after all, what you can’t measure, you can’t manage or improve, and when it comes to agriculture and land-use, there’s huge opportunity to both sustainably manage and improve.
Read about Palladium's SBTi commitments and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.