What Are Science Based Targets For Nature?

In the context of achieving accelerated action on protecting and restoring nature around the world, it’s important to understand the critical role of science-based targets for nature and sustainability. 

For organisations that want to both minimise their impacts on nature, while also striving to be nature-positive and enhancing nature, having specific targets that are rooted in the best available science can help provide a structured and strategic vision for how they conduct their businesses.

Targets also give organisations something to aim towards, and a roadmap to guide their decision-making and endeavours. 

Given the importance of biodiversity and nature, and the rate at which it’s being lost, it was critical that science-based targets for nature be developed to help guide companies in their sustainability journeys. The Sustainable Business Targets Network (SBTN) was established to help provide a mechanism to do just this. And in 2023, they launched the first science-based targets for nature to set a global standard for corporate action on nature. 

Below is an overview of how and why science-based targets for nature have been developed by the Sustainable Business Targets Network (SBTN), and what these targets for nature include. 

This article also explores how collaborative partnerships, aimed at addressing corporate disclosure of impacts on nature through setting nature-positive targets, are helping to provide actionable, nature-positive roadmaps for the business sector. This includes collaborative efforts between SBTN, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and Business for Nature. 

Furthermore, this article provides insights into the dynamics of voluntary and mandatory disclosures concerning sustainability and nature.

What are science-based targets for nature? And how have they been developed?

Science-based targets for nature are measurable, actionable goals that have clearly defined time-bound objectives and that use the best available science to provide organisations with data upon which to make decisions and take action. 

In the context of nature targets, the aim is to ensure that biodiversity loss is mitigated through the protection, restoration and sustainable use of natural ecosystems.  

In the mid-2010s, when mounting concerns over the alarming rate of biodiversity loss and climate change prompted a global awakening, there was pressure to define a new set of ambitious global goals to replace the UN Millennium Development Goals, which were due to expire at the end of 2015. 

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This marked an important moment in the worldwide commitment to sustainability and conservation.

Around the same time, there was recognition of a new concept of ‘planetary boundaries’, following a seminal article published in Nature by the co-founders of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Johan Rockström and Carl Folke, and other scientists. It emerged from the understanding that our planet's challenges are interconnected and extend beyond political borders. The roots of this idea can be traced back to "the commons," a term used to describe shared resources like air, water and land.

This new concept and scientific understanding of interconnectedness of global systems, provided a background to the establishment of the Global Commons Alliance in 2019, along with its scientific arm, The Earth Commission, and the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) as a platform for cities and businesses to adopt targets related to biodiversity, climate, land, ocean and water.

The core idea behind SBTN was clear: to establish conservation targets rooted in rigorous scientific research. These targets needed to be specific, measurable, and time-bound to address not just the rate of biodiversity loss but to reverse it. As a co-founder of SBTN, the Global Commons Alliance played an important role in nurturing the growth of this initiative. 

This approach represented a departure from the more abstract conservation goals of the past, uniting governments, NGOs, and communities worldwide under a shared vision guided by the power of science.

SBTN's approach and alignment with global biodiversity efforts

By 2019, following the publication of a new scientific paper, A Global Deal for Nature (GDN): Guiding Principles, Milestones, and Targets, there were mounting calls for global political commitment to protect biodiversity. This included key biodiversity areas and protecting at least 30 percent of Earth’s land and oceans by 2030. 

This Global Deal for Nature proposal provided a vision for what was needed to ensure the functioning of the biosphere, especially in the context of global climate change impacts. The GDN proposal was based on scientific guidelines linking two different United Nations conventions – the Framework Convention on Climate Change (aka the Paris Agreement) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to make them mutually reinforcing. It emphasised three themes that, taken together, could provide a roadmap to save life on Earth: mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and reducing threats to ecosystem intactness and species survival.

Then, in 2022, at the annual UN Biodiversity conference (COP15) in Montreal, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), nature’s equivalent to the Paris Agreement on climate, was adopted. This historic agreement provides a global vision to create a world living in harmony with nature by 2050. The GBF comprises four main goals for 2050, as well as 23 actionable targets by 2030.

The SBTN’s new science-based targets for nature provide a key mechanism for companies to operationalise this global deal for nature. Target 15 of the GBF specifically focuses on the role of business in managing and disclosing their impact on nature. This includes requiring companies to “regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity” - including along their operations, supply and value chains, and portfolios.

The SBTN’s objectives and approach are aligned with these global biodiversity efforts, including the Global Biodiversity Framework, the Paris Agreement, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The SBTN takes a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to enabling companies to create an equitable, nature-positive, net-zero future using corporate, science-based targets. 

In May 2023, the SBTN launched the first science-based targets for nature, aiming to set the global standard for ambitious and measurable corporate action on nature. 

An initial group of seventeen global companies is already preparing to set their first science-based targets for nature in 2023. These companies include AB InBev, Alpro (part of Danone), Bel, Carrefour, Corbion, GSK, H&M Group, Hindustan Zinc Limited, Holcim Group, Kering, L’OCCITANE Group, LVMH, Nestlé, Neste Corporation, Suntory Holdings Limited, Tesco and UPM. 

A full roll-out of SBTN’s science-based targets for nature will be available to all companies in early 2024.

How businesses can use the SBTN to take action for nature

Businesses and cities can use the 5-step process established by the SBTN to set, implement, and track progress on science-based targets for nature. This applies to freshwater, land, biodiversity, ocean and climate.

Guidelines provided by the SBTN help companies navigate the first 3 steps in the process (in addition to local Stakeholder Engagement Guidance), with additional guidelines for the steps 4 and 5 expected to be released in 2024. 

Below is an overview of this 5-step process for setting science based targets (SBTs) for nature, as well as an introduction to the current interim targets that have been established. 

For companies wanting to embark on using climate science-based targets- instead of the broader concept of nature-, which is a separate process, this can be done through the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

SBTN’s 5-step process for setting science-based targets for nature

To get prepared for setting science-based targets for nature for your company, it’s important to first:

  • Understand the concepts upon which science-based targets for nature are based. This includes reading the SBTN’s Initial Guidance for Business (2020) document.
  • Familiarise yourself with what company data will be required from your organisation, as part of the target-setting process in steps 1, 2, and 3. This SBTN document provides an overview of the data requirements (spreadsheet) for your organisation.
  • Join the SBTN’s Corporate Engagement Program. 
  • Get expert help, as needed, from SBTN’s service providers who can guide companies through the process.

Step 1: Assess your value chain-wide impacts on nature

The first step in setting science-based targets for nature, is to undertake a sector-level materiality assessment, using the SBTN’s screening tool. This provides an overview of the main issue areas in your particular sector.

Next, companies must estimate where impacts on nature occur throughout their value chain (including supply chain tiers and places). 

Step 2: Prioritise action areas

Step 2 aims to help companies establish priorities in terms of where action will have the biggest impact across value chains and landscapes, based on the data from step 1. Here companies define where and how they will take action to mitigate the most significant negative impacts on nature, and how this will be funded.  

Step 3: Set science-based targets for nature

In step 3, companies collect baseline data about their priority targets and locations, and set targets for freshwater, land, climate, biodiversity and oceans. 

Here companies also publicly disclose progress on achieving these targets, by tracking and reporting on progress. 

Step 4: Act to implement targets

As mentioned above, the methodologies and tools for step 4 are still being developed by the SBTN and expected to be ready by 2024. 

For companies wanting to take action now, the SBTN encourages you to follow their Action Framework (AR3T), which includes taking steps to avoid, reduce, restore and regenerate, and transform. An interactive action framework shows the types of actions companies will take when implementing science-based targets for nature. 

And although detailed guidance on step 4 will only be released in 2024, the freshwater and land methods provide examples of corporate response options for target implementation.

Step 5: Track progress, report and verify

Step 5 

requires companies to monitor progress and adapt their strategies if needed, as well as to report on progress publicly. 

Companies are expected to conduct measurement, reporting and verification throughout each of the 5 steps.

Detailed measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) guidance is being developed and will be available in 2024. For companies wanting to get started now, there is high-level measurement guidance available. 

SBTN’s interim targets that companies can use to start taking action for nature today

For companies wanting to get started using the SBTN to set, implement, and track progress on science-based targets for nature, it should be noted that steps 3, 4, and 5 are awaiting more guidelines which are expected to be published in 2024.

For step 3, technical guidance  has been provided (as well as a Guide for Readers) to give companies methodologies to set freshwater and land targets, which includes partial biodiversity coverage. As biodiversity is partially covered in this first release, a biodiversity approach  document is provided, which will be followed by a more detailed plan document for subsequent releases.

These initial freshwater targets for step 3 relate to freshwater quantity and maintaining environmental flows as well as freshwater quality and keeping nitrogen and phosphorus loads within water quality limits to ensure aquatic ecosystem health.

The land science-based targets are currently in beta, with version 1 expected to be made available in early 2024. These initial land targets currently are:

  • Target 1: No Conversion of Natural Ecosystems
  • Target 2: Land Footprint Reduction
  • Target 3: Landscape Engagement

Ocean targets will be available in 2024, and climate targets are set through the SBTi. 

To ensure that companies have correctly followed and completed their target setting methods before implementation or public disclosure, the SBTN will require companies to submit their targets for validation as part of step 3. 

At present, the SBTN is piloting the target validation process with a small group of companies, with a full roll-out of this process expected in early 2024.

Collaborative business partnerships for nature: the SBTN, TNDF and WBCSD

It’s exciting to see that there are a range of purposeful collaborative business partnerships for nature being established. And what’s more, that they are actively trying to streamline their approaches and methodologies to ensure that they are aligned and that they avoid duplicating efforts. 

This includes collaboration between the SBTN, the TNDF and the WBCSD, as outlined in further detail below. 

Collaboration between SBTN and TNDF in 2023

The relationship between the SBTN and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) is interesting because both organisations are important for the development of nature-positive actions and are working closely together in 2023. 

Both organisations have a shared vision: the transformation of business models to foster a nature-positive economy, based on the most current scientific knowledge. 

The SBTN's central mission revolves around providing corporations with the guidance for the formulation of science-based targets (SBTs) related to nature. The TNFD meanwhile is engaged in the development of an extensive framework tailored to assist both corporations and financial institutions in the management and disclosure of nature-related risks.

In a collaborative effort, the SBTN and the TNFD have compiled  a joint guidance document on target-setting for corporates, which outlines the SBTN’s methods to set science-based targets and how both organisations are working together to align their approaches and share knowledge. As the partnership between the SBTN and the TNFD continues to evolve, this guidance will undergo further expansion to ensure a highly integrated approach for corporations. 

The TNFD strongly advocates for corporations to adopt the SBTN's methodologies when setting their targets for nature. The interoperability between the TNFD and the SBTN frameworks presents advantages for corporations striving to align with TNFD's recommendations , last updated August 2023 , while concurrently pursuing science-based targets. 

Leveraging the SBTN's methodologies makes it possible for corporations to generate data and analytical outputs that are applicable to specific facets of the TNFD's Locate, Evaluate, Assess and Prepare (LEAP) approach for the evaluation of nature-related concerns. And, reciprocally, employing the LEAP approach can help corporations to acquire the essential data needed for the establishment of science-based targets for nature. 

This mutual relationship ensures an efficient approach to the integration of nature considerations into corporate strategies.

The WBCSD’s approach to nature-positive disclosures for businesses in 2023

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has joined forces with several prominent organisations, including the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN), the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), the World Economic Forum, Capitals Coalition, and Business for Nature, to establish an approach for businesses to address the critical issue of nature conservation. This collaborative effort has resulted in a framework known as "ACT-D," which stands for Assess, Commit, Transform, and Disclose.

At the core of this framework is the WBCSD approach, which demands that individual companies take immediate and decisive actions to halt the loss of biodiversity while actively contributing to its restoration. 

In practical terms, this approach divides actions into two categories: those that reduce harm to nature and those that actively restore, regenerate, and transform ecosystems. 

The aim is to collectively reverse the decline in biodiversity by 2030, with the ultimate goal of achieving full recovery by 2050.

The WBCSD’s recent Roadmaps to Nature Positive: Foundations for all Businesses publication (which was published in September 2023), serves as the basis of WBCSD’s business guidance. It lays out how all companies can play their part in halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 - the mission that’s also at the heart of the Global Biodiversity Framework.  

WBCSD's approach is grounded in key principles endorsed by leading organisations in the field. A crucial element of their approach is that the positive impacts generated by regenerative and restorative business practices, often referred to as "doing more good," must outweigh the negative impacts caused by measures to avoid and reduce nature loss, known as "doing less harm." 

This is in line with the SBTN's ‘avoid, reduce, restore and regenerate, transform’ (AR3T) Action Framework and the TNFD's LEAP approach.  

The WBCSD, through their Roadmaps to Nature Positive publication, provides a systematic guide for companies to identify their most significant dependencies, impacts, risks, and opportunities (DIROs) concerning nature. These findings then inform the priority areas for action and the levers for transformation that companies can use to accelerate their efforts in nature conservation and investment.

WBCSD has also developed systems roadmaps that offer analysis and guidance around four high impact systems: land use (specifically, the agri-food system and the forest products sector), the built environment system and the energy system. These systems-specific roadmaps have broad consensus, because they are developed through collaboration with 75 WBCSD member companies across the four systems, and over 50 partner organisations.  

Voluntary and mandatory disclosure requirements

To maintain compliance, companies need to navigate a range of disclosure and reporting requirements, some of which are mandatory while others are voluntary. 

When it comes to reporting on company dependencies and impacts on nature, there are various voluntary disclosure tools. This includes the SBTN’s science-based targets and the TNFD’s recommendations for nature-related financial disclosures.

Both the SBTN and TNFD have engaged with businesses (including through WBCSD pilots), supporting companies in assessing their impacts, dependencies, risks and opportunities associated with nature, setting science-informed targets where possible, and identifying priority action areas. 

The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) has also published voluntary disclosure standards: the General Requirements for Disclosure of Sustainability-related Financial Information (International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS S-1) and the Climate-related Disclosures (IFRS S-2). 

ISSB has indicated that it may require companies to provide additional transparency on impacts and risks related to natural ecosystems and a just transition. And regulators in a number of jurisdictions have indicated they will adopt the ISSB standards and make them mandatory in the near future.

An increasing number of mandatory disclosure requirements for companies are imminent and therefore relevant to companies. 

For example, the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), will require large and listed companies operating in the European Union to publish regular reports on the social and environmental risks they face and on how their activities impact people and the environment. 

These reporting requirements will also be relevant for EU-exporting companies in the rest of the world, through the so-called mandatory Cross Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) regulations.

Taking private sector climate action through the Science Based Targets initiative

To comprehensively address global sustainability, companies need to take action to address their reliance and impacts on both nature and climate change. 

The Science Based Targets Network was established, based on the success and momentum achieved through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), and helps companies and cities to set science-based targets for nature and climate change by incorporating the SBTi methodology, guidance and tools. 

The Science Based Targets initiative was launched in 2015 to drive private sector climate action by helping organisations set ambitious targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Science Based Targets initiative represents a network of partners including the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in collaboration with We Mean Business. 

By 2021, just before the UNFCCC’s COP26 in Glasgow, the Science Based Targets initiative launched a Net-Zero Standard which now provides a framework for companies to set net-zero targets. 

By the end of 2022, over 4000 companies have established targets, or committed to doing so, through the Science Based Targets initiative, making this a powerful network for corporate climate action. 

The Science Based Targets initiative has also developed sector-specific guidance for a range of different industries wanting to take action on climate change. This includes:

  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the apparel and footwear sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the aviation sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the building sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the cement sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for financial institutions
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the oil and gas sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the transport sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the steel sector
  • Science Based Targets initiative guidance for the chemicals sector

Companies that want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, can use the Science Based Targets initiative’s 5-step process to establish their science-based targets. This Science Based Targets initiative’s 5-steps are: commit, develop, submit, communicate and disclose.