SBTi walks back carbon offset policy changes after staff backlash

By Staff
5 Min Read

Dive Brief:

  • The Science Based Targets initiative rescinded a proposal that said the organization would allow for expanded use of carbon offsets in its scope 3 guidance following staff backlash. SBTi said it has not changed its environmental offsetting policy, despite proposing amendments to it in an April 9 statement.
  • “No change has been made to SBTi current standards,” the climate action organization said in an April 12 clarifying statement, attached to the original board of trustees’ statement. The United Nations-backed group added that any use of carbon or other environmental offsets for scope 3 emissions abatement “will be informed by evidence.” 
  • The backtracking comes after the Guardian reported SBTi staff told management that the move was not backed by science and also called for the resignation of the organization’s CEO. It was also reported that the group’s staff was concerned expanding use of carbon offsets would allow corporate greenwashing.

Dive Insight:

SBTi — a global organization that validates that corporations’ net-zero goals align with climate science — said it will release a discussion paper along with its draft proposal about potential changes to the scope 3 guidelines in its Corporate Net-Zero Standard in July.

The organization said in the clarification that changes to guidelines on environmental attribute certificates — like voluntary carbon markets — would require research, drafting and a public consultation. Additionally, changes would require review and approval from a technical council before it can be considered and adopted by SBTi’s board.

“Any change to SBTi standards, including use of [environmental attribute certificates] for scope 3, will be conducted according to previously approved SBTi standard operating procedure for developing standards,” the statement said.

The clarification marks a rapid reversal in the organization’s public stance in less than a week. In SBTi’s April 9 statement, the organization said that while there is “healthy ongoing debate” about their credibility, it would allow expanded use of carbon credits and other offsets for corporations’ plans to abate supply chain emissions.

The organization also said it would set guidelines, thresholds and definitions for the use of environmental offsets but would not seek to validate their quality because it believes other organizations are better suited for the task.

“SBTi recognizes that, when properly supported by policies, standards and procedures based on scientific evidence, the use of environmental attribute certificates for abatement purposes on scope 3 emissions could function as an additional tool to tackle climate change,” the SBTi said April 9.

The burgeoning carbon offset market has become a powerful motivator for farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture and other climate-smart practices. Carbon credit companies pay farmers to adopt more sustainable techniques, and any saved emissions are then resold to other corporations looking to decrease their climate footprints.

SBTi’s decision to allow expanded use of carbon credits was initially met with some positive reactions by corporate sustainability experts. Zander Dale, a senior consultant for climate business consultancy EcoAct, called it a “forward-thinking move” that highlighted “ the immediate necessity of strategically incorporating carbon credits, among other tools, into our climate and sustainability strategies.”

However, staff responded swiftly against the move, calling for the resignation of SBTi CEO Luiz Fernando do Amaral and “any board members who supported the decision” to issue the statement on Thursday. 

“We stand ready to support any efforts aimed at ensuring that the SBTi does not become a greenwashing platform where decisions are unduly influenced by lobbyists, driven by potential conflicts of interest and poor adherence to existing governance procedures. In the event that our concerns are not addressed, SBTi staff will have no choice but to take further action,” the staff’s letter to management said, according to a Guardian report published April 11. 

SBTi — a partner of the Carbon Disclosure Project, United Nations Global Compact and World Resources Institute, among others — issued the clarifying statement the next day.

Sarah Zimmerman contributed to this story.

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