Science Based Targets Network releases first nature goals

In related news, some investors are putting pressure on the TNFD to take a double materiality approach.

The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) has published science-based targets (SBTs) for nature to enable firms to assess and prioritise their environmental impacts and prepare to set freshwater and land targets. 

SBTN –a separate organisation to the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) – is a global coalition of environmental NGOs and mission-driven organisations aiming to enable companies and cities to operate in environmentally sustainable ways to restore balance to the Earth’s inter-related systems of freshwater, biodiversity, land and ocean alongside climate.   

On Wednesday, SBTN published initial methods, tools and guidance for companies to begin setting nature targets.

The first area of focus for the targets will be on freshwater and land, alongside climate through the SBTi. The nature targets also directly support biodiversity, aiming to ensure companies contribute to the preservation and restoration of ecosystems.

SBTN reiterated its five-step process for companies setting targets: assessing their biggest impacts and dependencies on nature; select focus areas; collect baseline data for priority targets and locations; implement target using SBTN’s framework; and monitor and report publicly on progress. 

As a next step, 17 global companies – including GlaxoSmithKline, H&M, Kering, Nestle and Tesco – are preparing to set and submit targets for validation, with a full roll-out to all companies in early 2024. 

SBTN has conducted a raft of consultations and reviews on draft guidance since its inception in 2020.

“The first release of SBTs for nature endeavors to address… feedback while balancing rigor with end-user feasibility,” a spokesperson said. “SBTN will release the themes raised in these consultations and SBTN’s related responses as a supplementary document following the first methods release.” 

The initial version of freshwater science-based targets focus on two key issues: water use, specifically withdrawals from surface water bodies and groundwater, and freshwater pollution resulting from nitrogen and phosphorus. 

These pressures are the first to be addressed because of their relevance to the majority of companies (freshwater use), their significance in specific sectors and environmental issues (freshwater pollution). Combined, they are two of the key pressures that are driving the loss of nature in ecosystems around the world. 

For the next release, expected in 2024, SBTN will expand the coverage of freshwater pollution.

SBTN’s land science-based targets are at an earlier beta stage – with the first version expected in early 2024 following a corporate pilot. The targets will focus on halting the conversion of natural ecosystems, freeing up agricultural land for natural ecosystem restoration and improving the ecological integrity of landscapes, including working lands, to enhance ecosystem structure, composition and function. 

Erin Billman, executive director at SBTN, said: “We have designed the guidance to build on companies’ existing sustainability strategies and have proactively aligned with existing and upcoming standards and frameworks – including the Science Based Targets initiative and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures risk management and disclosure beta framework.” 

SBTN has also published a paper that explains the inclusion of biodiversity within the first release and outlines the more detailed biodiversity coverage analysis approach to be completed by its biodiversity hub.

An initial guidance on local stakeholder engagement has also been launched to help companies collaborate with those who may be significantly affected on the ground when setting and implementing targets. The guidance focuses on traditionally under-represented groups such as Indigenous peoples and local communities and is the first step in ensuring a just implementation of the targets. 

Next year, it will also publish the first ocean SBTs beginning with seafood value chains as well as the full outline of SBTN’s five-step framework, including measurement of companies’ progress toward targets. 

Investors put pressure on TNFD

In related news, the Finance for Biodiversity (FfB) Foundation’s members have called on the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) to increase the practical applicability of its draft framework and push for all organisations to use a double-materiality approach.

The FfB Foundation made the call as part of its response to the TNFD’s fourth and final beta version of its disclosure framework. 

Launched in June 2021, the TNFD is tasked with developing an integrated risk management and disclosure framework for organisations to report and act on evolving nature-related risks and opportunities.   

FfB members said there is a need to simplify the recommendations to enable the dissemination of “decision-useful information” and clearly demonstrate interoperability with emerging regional and global standards. 

On materiality, the FfB said there is “too much discretion for companies to determine what is material”, which could limit cross-comparability. Instead, “all organisations should use a double-materiality approach”.

The TNFD is currently taking an adaptable and flexible approach to materiality “to accommodate the preferences and regulatory requirements of report preparers and report users from organisations of all sizes and across all jurisdictions”.

“The framework needs to be further refined and pared back in terms of its complexity,” said Charlotte Apps, sustainable investing analyst at Fidelity International, lead of the FfB Foundation TNFD subgroup. “Nature is still a relatively new topic for most organisations, therefore what TNFD needs to deliver is a pragmatic solution to nature-based risk management and reporting to enable broad-based adoption. 

“The take-up and usefulness of the voluntary TNFD framework will depend on whether it manages to package the complex topic of biodiversity measurement into a clear and concise manual for companies to implement and report on.” 

In response to the recommendations, Tony Goldner, executive director of the TNFD, told Responsible Investor that the Taskforce is continuing to liaise closely with voluntary standard setters, such as GRI and ISSB as well as the EU’s standards body EFRAG – “given the range of standard-setting activities currently underway or out for consultation with market participants”.