Net zero reviewer SBTi responds to transparency criticisms

The body has announced plans to establish a complaints mechanism.

The article was amended to correct the characterisation of net-zero and interim climate targets.

The Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) has defended its participation in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevent the naming of organisations that have had their climate targets rejected by SBTi.

SBTi said that disclosing details of organisations that had fallen short of its accreditation criteria “could act as a deterrent and reduce the number of companies aligning their decarbonisation with climate science”. NDAs are also key to enabling access to “sensitive and confidential” corporate information required to audit net-zero targets, it added.

“Our theory of change is based on recognising companies and financial institutions that submit emission reductions targets for assessment in line with our standards and target validation protocols, which are publicly available and aligned with the latest climate science,” SBTi said.

“We believe in a strong accountability ecosystem with different actors playing different roles.”

The statement – which was posted on LinkedIn – was made in response to criticisms by Bill Baue, a climate specialist who sat on SBTi’s technical advisory group for eight years from its 2012 inception before leaving the group in 2020. Baue was among the group of advisers who developed the initial concept behind SBTi.

According to Baue, a science-based approach requires a means to independently verify SBTi’s audits to ensure their integrity, and also that of the underlying methodology.

In addition to keeping rejected net-zero plans confidential, SBTi does not disclose the reasoning behind its approval of climate targets.

Earlier this year, analysis by the New Climate Institute found that at least 11 of 18 companies that have had their interim climate targets plans endorsed by SBTi were “highly contentious” for technicalities such as claims that selling solar panels to customers could be used to offset organisation emissions, or climate claims by parent companies that do not match those of their subsidiaries.

The report concluded that “standard-setting initiatives should focus on the development of guidelines and standards, rather than pursuing the mass evaluation of individual companies with insufficient resources and conflicting incentives”.

In response, SBTi reportedly said that issues flagged in the report had been solved by recent updates to its methodology.

Last year, Responsible Investor reported that prominent EU-based think-tank 2 Degrees Investing Initiative had quit SBTi in a row over what financial institutions should be able to call climate “impact”.

SBTi has now revealed plans to hire a director to answer complaints about its standards and evaluation process, according to Reuters. “I’m the first one to recognise that we don’t have a complaints mechanism,” SBTi chief executive Luiz Amaral said in a recent interview. “We’re hiring a soon-to-be announced director whose responsibility will be to create [that].”

SBTi has signed off on more than 1,000 interim climate targets since its formation. It is a partnership between the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute, WWF and CDP.