How science-based targets can help us think bigger for our planet


There’s been a lot of progress to celebrate for society and our planet over the last year. The Paris Agreement was an historic and unprecedented global commitment to tackle climate change, and when Boris Johnson put pen to paper on 17 November, Britain became country no.111 to ratify the deal.


It’s vital now that we don’t stand still. There’s an enormous amount of work still to be done and we can’t continue to live in 'the Paris moment'. The current level of national intended commitments are out of sync with what the science tells us will keep global temperature rises “well below 2°C”. We need to think bigger and extend our ambition.


We have to be continually assessing and revising our climate change targets. Crucially, these targets have to be science-based. We need clear, measurable goals that are rooted in science. And we then need clear plans and pathways to deliver against them.


A science-based target is a carbon emissions reduction target which is consistent with the latest scientific consensus on global goals for emissions that will limit global temperature increase to 2°C or 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial levels. This approach can be used to allocate a “fair share” of the required global emissions reductions at a country and/ or organisational level.


At BT, we set a challenge to investigate the measures that we, as a company, would need to put in place to do our “fair share” in limiting temperature increases.


Our commitment to tackling climate change is not new. In 2008, BT set a science-based target to reduce our operational worldwide carbon emissions intensity by 80% by 2020, when compared with 1996/97. Last year we met that target; we’re now aiming higher.


Working with the Carbon Trust, we are exploring what a 1.5°C science-based target could mean for BT. 


To meet a 1.5°C target, we need to further reduce our carbon intensity (tonnes of CO2 emissions per £m value added). We’ve already made significant ground towards a sustainable future – our commitment to renewable energy with an ambition to #go100percent worldwide by 2020, taking carbon out of our networks, data centres and buildings, and scaling our Better Future Supplier Forum to help our suppliers with an online sustainability assessor tool are all good examples. But for a 1.5°C scenario, we need to do more. And like the work that’s already been done, we know any future activity has to be based on real science.


Going it alone is not an option. We may be one of the first businesses looking at the 1.5°C scenario. But if we’re the last, we will have failed.


There is a rich history of collaboration on climate action, and we believe the time is now for companies and countries to start thinking about a 1.5°C world, and what the implications could be. Like any multi-national company, this means another step change in not only how we think, but also how we put these thoughts into action.


COP22 in Marrakech was another line in the sand for global efforts to tackle climate change. Action was top of the agenda, but it mustn’t replace ambition. When it comes to our climate, we’ve got to keep thinking big. And we have to ground our thinking in science. Now is the time to seize the initiative, aim higher and lead by example. Let’s think 1.5°C.


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