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Science-Based Targets Initiative accused of conflicts of interest and sidelining climate science

SBTi technical advisory group member publishes formal complaint and requests an enquiry

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is facing a formal complaint from a member of its technical advisory group (TAG), who says its guidance is not aligned with the most robust science, and is compromised by conflicts of interest. 

SBTi is a collaboration between NGOs the World Resources Institute (WRI), WWF and CDP, and seeks to define best practice in emissions reductions and net-zero targets in line with climate science.

More than a 1,000 companies are now involved in the initiative, including more than 55 financial institutions. According to its website, financial support for its work with financial institutions has been provided by Canadian pension fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, ClimateWorks Foundation, Dutch Platform Carbon Accounting Financials, Keeling Curve Prize, the Hewlett Foundation and The Bank of New York Mellon.

But Bill Baue, Senior Director of NGO r3.0, who sits on SBTi’s TAG, has published a formal complaint which claims that new peer-reviewed scientific research illustrates that the initiative is misaligned with the best climate science. The complaint also accused the group of having governance issues. 

Baue’s grievance centres on the methodologies that SBTi recommends companies use to measure alignment with 2°C or 1.5°C: it recommends a Sectoral Decarbonization Approach created by SBTi partners WRI, WWF and CDP, and an Absolute Contraction Approach, created by WRI and multinational company Mars. 

Baue says a new scientific study, written by academics Anders Bjorn, Shannon Lloyd and Damon Matthews, finds that other methodologies, such the Center for Sustainable Organisation Context-Based Carbon Metric, have the overall “lowest emission imbalance across all scenarios”, which he argues should concern the SBTi Executive Committee, given that “the methodology with the strongest results on emissions imbalance is actively being recommended against, while methodologies with weaker results are being exclusively recommended.”

He continues that it is a concern that the scientific study cannot find the reasoning for SBTi’s recommendation, and that the two methodologies that are exclusively recommended by SBTi are the products of SBTi partners, while the methodologies that are recommended against are all created separately from SBTi, “raising significant self-dealing and conflict of interests concerns”.

Baue claims several others on the SBTi TAG “have similarly been confounded over the logic behind SBTi’s recommendation anomalies”.

“We have engaged in good faith efforts requesting comprehensible explanations, but have met with dead ends every time we’ve pursued such answers,” he said.

Other complaints voiced by Baue include concerns that the SDA method is not aligned with robust climate science, and claims that SBTi did not contact the developers of the methodologies or consult its TAG on the methodologies it would recommend.

“This is confounding, as this could be considered one of the most consequential technical decisions made by SBTi, after all,” he states, asking the SBTi Executive Board to investigate whether the organisation is enacting real, potential, and/or perceived conflicts of interest and self-dealing. He also asks that SBTi redesign its recommendation regime.

This is not the first time representatives from civil society have rowed with SBTi over the credibility of its approach. Think tank and former partner 2 Degrees Investing Initiative quit the initiative last year because of a dispute over what financial institutions should be able to call climate ‘impact’.  

SBTi has been approached for comment.

Update: SBTi published this blog in response to the publication of this article and Bill Baue.