What are SBTs?

We define science-based targets for nature (SBTs) as measurable, actionable, and time-bound objectives, based on the best available science, that allow actors to align with Earth’s limits and societal sustainability goals.

By setting science-based targets for nature, companies and cities can align their actions to both the scientific boundaries that define a safe and just operating space for humanity in terms of Earth’s limits and the societal sustainability goals that set out global objectives for equitable human development.

Building on climate science-based targets

Science-based targets for nature build on and complement the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)’s existing science-based targets for climate, which are focused on cutting GHG emissions. Since 2015, climate targets have been set by more than 5,000 companies through SBTi and are contributing to closing the global emissions gap left open by insufficient action by governments.

With its targets for nature, SBTN first equips companies with a holistic and rigorous science-based framework to assess and prioritize their impacts on freshwater, land, ocean, biodiversity, and climate so they can then take on-the-ground action accordingly through targets, beginning with freshwater and land (and climate through SBTi). 

Drawing on the best available science and in line with global societal goals, the new targets give companies the necessary guardrails to know they are taking enough of the right actions, in the right places, at the right time across their value chains, beginning with their direct operation and priority upstream activities. 

The aim is for companies and, soon, cities, to have the guidance they need to stay within an environmentally safe and socially just operating corridor.

“Science-based targets are critically important for businesses. First and foremost, they take the guesswork out of what we need to do, by when, by whom, how much, and where.” M. Sanjayan
CEO, Conservation International

Operating within ecological and social limits

As environmental degradation becomes increasingly clear, concerns are growing that we are close to critical thresholds or “tipping points” in the Earth system. Such overshoots could lead to abrupt and potentially irreversible environmental changes, posing significant risks to ecosystems and human societies.

An important tool for understanding these risks is the Planetary Boundaries framework, first outlined formally in 2009¹, which identified nine critical boundaries that define the safe operating space for humanity within the Earth system.

In September 2023, a team of scientists quantified, for the first time, all nine systems, finding that six out of nine boundaries have already been crossed.²

Figure 1. Most recent assessment of planetary boundaries, showing at least six of the nine have been transgressed. From: Richardson et al. 2023.

Safe and Just Boundaries

Building on this work, the Earth Commission – a group of leading social and natural scientists hosted by Future Earth to provide a global-scale assessment of the conditions that define a stable and resilient planet, which is also part of the Global Commons Alliance alongside SBTN – recently defined Safe and Just boundaries which are set to become the scientific underpinning for the next generation of sustainability targets.

This assessment identified quantitative boundary conditions for biophysical systems such as biodiversity, freshwater, land, ocean, and climate as well as considering socioeconomic aspects, justice, and human well-being. This marks a step change in understanding how to protect people alongside the planet, and is science for real-world application. 

Global businesses including GSK, Nestlé, H&M Group, and Holcim Group are leading the way by piloting the first science-based targets for nature informed by this science. 

¹Rockstrom et al. (2009), “A safe operating space for humanity.”
²Richardson et al. (2023), “Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries.”
³Rockstrom et al. (2023), Safe and just Earth System boundaries.

Aligned to societal goals

Science-based targets for nature allow companies and cities to align their efforts with global nature-related sustainability efforts, notably the goals set out in the following frameworks for action: UN conventions on biodiversity (UNCBD), climate change (UNFCCC), land degradation (UNCCD), and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs).

A critical component of these societal goals for nature has now been finalized: the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework adopted in 2022 (through the UNCBD) and its high-level goals for species, ecosystems, and “nature’s contributions to people”—the life-sustaining services that nature provides. This Biodiversity Plan defines our common goal to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 and requires all large businesses and financial institutions to assess and disclose their risks, impacts and dependencies on biodiversity. Here we explore how science-based targets for nature can help operationalize the global Biodiversity Plan.

Taking aim at the drivers and pressures of nature loss

Drawing from IPBES, SBTN understands the key drivers of nature loss (i.e. pressures) as: ecosystem use and use change, resource over exploitation, invasive alien species, climate change and pollution.

These are the drivers that science-based targets for nature address through mitigatory action in order to reverse the loss of nature, and “bend the curve” to attain nature positive levels that continue to support healthy communities and thriving economies.

A group of leaders from many organizations working with SBTN supports the following global goal for nature: “Nature positive.” As defined by this group, a nature positive world requires no net loss of nature from 2020, a net positive state of nature by 2030, and full recovery of nature by 2050. Learn more about how science-based targets for nature enable companies to contribute to nature positive outcomes here.

Translating science into targets

For individual companies, targets are calculated based on an assessment of their impacts relating to ecological limits and societal goals.

As such, targets are rooted in scientific knowledge and societal consensus rather than arbitrarily selected ambition levels and indicators, or on ambition based on feasibility and corporate willingness to act.

Science-based targets reflect a society- and nature-first approach to corporate environmental action.