2 min read

‘No change has been made’: SBTi clarifies carbon offset position amid backlash

Its own staff has called for those responsible for the “concern, confusion and damaged trust” to be held accountable.
Melodie Michel
‘No change has been made’: SBTi clarifies carbon offset position amid backlash
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has clarified that its April 9 statement on the potential use of carbon offsets to meet climate goals does not equal an amendment of its standards – a clear attempt to restore trust after being accused of malpractice.

“No change has been made to SBTi current standards,” the organisation said. “Any use of EACs [environmental attribute certificates, which include carbon credits from the voluntary market] for Scope 3 will be informed by evidence. Any change to SBTi standards, including use of EACs for Scope 3, will be conducted according to previously approved SBTi Standard Operating Procedure for developing standards, including research, drafting, public consultation, technical council review and approval, consideration and adoption by the SBTi board.”

It added that a draft proposal of changes to Scope 3 target setting would be published in July and feed into a new standard draft.

SBTi carbon offset controversy

Last week, the SBTi sowed discord among sustainability practitioners by suggesting that it could allow the use of carbon credits for Scope 3 decarbonisation, beyond the current limit of 10% of a company’s baseline emissions. In a Board of Trustees statement on the topic, it said that “when properly supported by policies, standards and procedures based on scientific evidence”, EACs such as carbon credits could “function as an additional tool to tackle climate change”.

The organisation’s own staff published a letter shortly after, criticising the Board of Trustees’ undermining of governance processes, and calling for those responsible for the “concern, confusion and damaged trust” caused by the statement to be held accountable.

Many organisations believe carbon finance mechanisms such as those of the voluntary carbon market have a role to play in directing funding to the communities most vulnerable to climate change. Several of them, including the ICVCM and VCMI, are currently working to develop a high-integrity carbon market for this exact purpose, and welcomed the SBTi’s endorsement.

But for many others, the statement was a dangerous signal likely to lower companies’ carbon reduction ambitions. Clara Vondrich, senior policy counsel at NGO Public Citizen’s Climate Programme, said: “Science Based Targets Initiative has long been a model for the climate finance community due to its steadfast commitment that science – not politics – should be the guiding light for corporate sustainability pledges and climate targets.The policy before was clear: offsets cannot be used to greenwash emissions, at any stage in the value chain. That kind of clarity is desperately needed in this era of doublespeak and greenwash. The board of SBTi must quickly reverse this decision and work to rebuild the trust it has shaken.” 

Credibility and lack of consensus

For sustainability leaders, the most worrying aspect of the SBTi’s carbon offset statement was the evident lack of consensus building. “The current situation in SBTi revealed only one thing: the need to improve their governance processes and structure (...) The problem is that, evidently, SBTi leadership decided to implement a very important (and highly controversial) change in SBTi standards without proper consultation and consensus-building processes (not even with its own staff and Technical Advisory Groups!),” said Georgios Chalkias, Head of Sustainability, Decorative Business at Hempel, adding that the SBTi’s credibility could be restored by making the “required improvements” to its governance processes.