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22 US companies singled out for not filing science-based climate targets

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22 US companies singled out for not filing science-based climate targets

Aiming to provide greater transparency around emissions reduction plans, the Science Based Targets initiative platform has flagged more than 20 US companies and dozens more worldwide for not laying out their emissions targets in a timely way.

Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is used by several thousand companies and brands worldwide, including energy-sector players, to show customers and clients that their targets have teeth.

SBTi's recent decision to flag companies that have not submitted specific targets comes in response to criticisms over recent years that the initiative lacked transparency and credibility.

To participate in the initiative, companies that notify SBTi that they intend to set science-based emission reduction targets must then develop a plan using the initiative's criteria showing how they will reach their short-term and long-term climate targets. The companies have to submit those plans to SBTi for validation.

To remain listed in SBTi's database, companies are required to submit the plans within 24 months of declaring their intention — a deadline some companies have not met.

Worthington Industries Inc.'s Sustainable Energy Solutions, an Ohio-based hydrogen company, was the only US energy company to be singled out for missing a recent deadline to submit its net-zero plans. Electricity Supply Board, a state-owned Irish utility, and Jupiter Bach, a Danish wind turbine technology company, also made the list.

Worthington Industries did not respond to a request for comment. No banks or financial firms in the US or beyond were disqualified.

So far, 5,734 companies have promised SBTi to set and validate emissions reduction goals. Of those, 3,239 have established science-based targets, according to the organization's website.

Transparency considerations

Critics have accused the initiative of not holding companies accountable and of "lending credibility to low-quality and misleading targets," as one 2022 study by NewClimate Institute put it.

In November 2022, SBTi announced that it would no longer just remove companies that fail to submit their targets as promised.

Instead, the companies would remain on the organization's dashboard but would be labeled with "commitment removed." Companies were offered a six-month grace period that ended July 31 to comply with the action requirements.

"The new policy makes it clear where companies have committed to set targets but then failed to comply," SBTi said in a July 31 press release. "Not only does this increase transparency and accountability around commitments and eventual validation, it acts as a major disincentive for companies to make commitments without taking action."

Large US brands labeled 'removed'

In all, 121 companies worldwide had as of Aug. 7 been publicly removed from SBTi's list.

Amazon.com Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc. and Panera Bread Co. were among several large US brands targeted by the action.

Ray Atkinson, a Smithfield Foods spokesperson, said in an email that SBTi introduced new metrics and different reporting requirements for forest, land and agriculture industries in September 2022. He said this made submitting science-based targets by the deadline impossible for the pork producer and food processing company.

"We remain committed to ambitious climate goals," Atkinson wrote. "We are on track to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions by 30% across our entire U.S. value chain and become carbon negative in all our U.S. company-owned operations by 2030."

SBTi referred S&P Global Commodity Insights to information posted on its website, but the organization did not immediately respond to Atkinson's comments. In an Aug. 3 blog post, Amazon also said the new SBTi rules made it difficult to comply "in a meaningful and accurate way" with the July 31 deadline.

"We will continue to work with SBTi to establish a path forward for submission, and we believe there's a role to play for organizations like theirs," Amazon wrote. "We're also not pulling back or slowing down — in tandem to this ongoing work with SBTi, we'll also seek to set science-based targets with other organizations and credible third-party validators."

Panera Bread did not immediately respond to a request for comment on SBTi's actions.

SBTi was formed in 2015 by the climate disclosure platform CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund to drive the private sector to set net-zero emissions targets in line with a 1.5 C global warming scenario. Since then, some scientists have said the more ambitious target under the Paris Agreement on climate change may no longer be achievable.

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