What Companies Need to Know About SBTN’s Draft Land Targets
Dr. Sophie Gilbert
Dr. Sophie Gilbert
17 April, 2023 min read

Nearly two years ago the United Nations Environment Programme told the world it needs to invest $8.1 trillion in nature by 2050 to tackle the combined climate, biodiversity, and land degradation crises. While sustainability leaders are well-positioned to help make the necessary investments in nature, many of them will need guidance to know how to focus their efforts and develop actionable targets. If you’re a sustainability professional at a large corporation looking for a guide, SBTN can be a great resource, and also offers opportunities for early-adopter companies to begin their nature target-setting journey via their corporate engagement program.

What is SBTN?

The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) was created to help companies prioritize, protect, and invest in nature, addressing impacts that climate targets alone cannot. Sustainability leaders can rely on SBTN to help them set meaningful nature targets and provide guidance for achieving their goals. You may be wondering if SBTN is the same organization as SBTi – it is not. Think of SBTN as a sister organization to SBTi, which many in the sustainability world turn to for guidance on net-zero target-setting for carbon emissions. Like SBTi, SBTN is a collaborative effort. The creation of the SBTs for nature was the work of a number of highly credible organizations, including World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, The Food and Land Use Coalition, The Nature Conservancy, and SystemIQ. 

Should you Consider the SBTN Approach?

We support SBTN’s approach, and encourage corporations to engage with SBTN early as part of their corporate engagement program to get ahead of the curve and start their journey to become nature positive. There is a lot of learning needed for corporate sustainability professionals to become fluent in nature impacts and solutions outside of carbon, and now is a great time to begin. Companies that begin this work early can also better and more gradually de-risk their global supply chains and get ahead of nature-based reporting requirements (for example, the EU’s new CSRD requirements). If internal capacity is currently limited, there are a number of specialty consultancies that can assist with this important work in the near-term. But if your organization has a large nature footprint, consider investing in hiring new staff with expertise in nature- from nature-based carbon to biodiversity, water resources, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Nature-based assessments, disclosures, and target-setting is set to become a permanent part of the business landscape.

Science Based Targets for Nature

SBTN is set to release Science Based Targets (SBTs) for Nature in 2023, with release dates varying across different areas of nature. Draft guidance has begun to be released for public comment, and further guidance will be in 2024 and onwards. These targets will help companies prioritize where and how they make their nature-based investments across freshwater, biodiversity, land, and oceans. For each of these types of nature, companies will be expected to follow 5 steps

  1. Assess
  2. Interpret and prioritize
  3. Measure, set & disclose targets
  4. Act (to avoid, reduce, regenerate, restore and transform)
  5. Track

Companies with significant dependencies and impact on nature, or with nature-positive ambitions, should pay attention. In order for companies to effectively reach the targets set by SBTN, they must increase land use efficiency and sustainable land management, as well as contribute to active restoration efforts. 

Ahead of the full targets for nature release, SBTN has released draft methodologies for steps 1-3 (above) for land science-based targets, a component of the larger release (it already released draft guidance for steps 1-3 for water). The land portion of the science-based targets specifically focuses on the protection and restoration of ecosystems, which in turn impacts biodiversity, water, and carbon. To guide how companies can use the land they own, as well as how they can impact land outside their immediate footprint, SBTN developed 3 land targets:

  • No conversion of Natural Ecosystems 
  • Reduction in land footprint 
  • Landscape engagement 

Making targets clear and easy to implement is a critical part of realizing society’s global nature goals. By building on existing frameworks, SBTN has made it easier for companies to take on accountability and implementation of the SBTs. The land targets tap into existing frameworks on climate and deforestation including those of the United Nations, Science Based Targets Initiative, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and the Accountability Framework. SBTN has also done a good job of making these targets reasonable for companies to take on through flexible implementation approaches depending upon region and company size, and has sought feedback from corporations interested in setting targets at each step of the process. Below, we have outlined who is impacted by each target, what it means, and how companies are expected to take action.

Breaking Down the Land Targets

Target 1: No Conversion of Natural Ecosystems 

Who it applies to: Companies in sectors such as forestry, agriculture, and more, with material land pressures (see Table 5, page 20)

Target 1 seeks to avoid shifting natural ecosystems to other land uses. For example, it would minimize the conversion of land to agricultural use or any other use where that results in substantial change to the ecosystem’s species composition, structure, or function. Companies in certain sectors (such as forestry and agriculture), with material pressures on land, will need to commit to no conversion of natural ecosystems after a cut off date determined by the target requirements (no later than 2020, any conversions made after this date are expected to be restored). 

Target dates differ depending on the level at which a company operates along supply chains, the type of commodities sourced, and the origins of the commodities. Wondering if this applies to you? SBTN has included a decision tree to help companies understand if the no conversion target applies to them. See page 42 of the draft guidance document. Once a company identifies that this target is applicable to them, they can work within SBTN’s supplied framework to prioritize their natural land holdings for no conversion.

Target 2: Land Footprint Reduction

Who it applies to: Large companies producing or sourcing agricultural products

Even if society commits to stopping converting land in the future, we still need to decrease the pressures on the land that is already in use. This target intends to reduce the amount of agricultural land a company uses to create its products. In Target 2, a company’s footprint targeted for reduction is the amount of agricultural land required per year to produce or source its products, not all land it owns. If you’re in food and agriculture, retail apparel, wholesale textiles, biomass/biofuels, tire manufacturing, or any other sector specified (see Table 5, page 20), and have agricultural land occupation greater than 50,000 hectares and/or 10,000 full time employees, this applies to you. Once again, SBTN has provided a useful decision tree on page 63 here to help companies understand if this target is applicable to them. 

SBTN provides two methods for setting a land footprint reduction target. 

  • The first is the absolute reduction approach. In this approach, a company would set a corporate target in line with the global target for reduction of agricultural land occupation. The result is an overall reduction in the amount of agricultural land used by the target year, relative to the base year, using a rate of 0.35% annual linear reduction.
  • Intensity reduction target setting is another approach, where a company can reduce the intensity of climate impacts per unit of product based on one of two options:
    1. Convergence option: to a common value by a given year as dictated by a global pathway
    2. Contraction option: at the same rate across all companies, regardless of baseline performance

Target 3: Landscape Engagement  

Who it applies to: Those whose operations and/or supply chains create material land-associated pressures to land, and who are in specific sectors, as identified during the assessment in Target 1

Target 3 is focused on enabling nature-positive actions by those with the largest impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. A company participating in Target 3 is undertaking regenerative, restorative, and transformational actions by improving ecological integrity and conditions that lead to improved management in landscapes relevant to their business. Landscape Engagement is a purposefully broad target, enabling a variety of actions that can be implemented for achieving holistic, multiple-objective environmental, biodiversity, and social outcomes. Another important design component in this target is the “landscape” scale for engagement, as healthy ecosystems exist beyond the boundaries of any single company footprint and will often require multi-stakeholder approaches and collaboration. This could look like doing a restorative project on a company’s own land footprint, while also investing in adjacent land to increase biodiversity outcomes. Companies are encouraged to invest both within and beyond their supply chains. To understand if this target applies to your business, see page 87 here.

To set a landscape engagement target, companies should use one of these approaches:

  • Choose a landscape for engagement in connection with value chain-wide impacts and dependencies on nature, and the priorities they’ve set against those as is done in SBTN’s 5 step guide in setting science based targets for nature
  • Choose landscapes for engagement in connection with the No Conversion of Natural Ecosystems Target
  • Choose Landscapes for Engagement in Connection with their Land Footprint Reduction Target

What if my Business Uses Highly-transformed Commodities Where Tracing the Nature Impacts is Very Difficult?

If a business cannot trace a commodity to verify its deforestation- and conversion-free status, SBTN is recommending that companies contribute via payment to landscape initiatives in order to mitigate their impacts, as a form of mitigation. This should be a tool of last resort, in the rare cases where the full supply chain can demonstrably not be traced (see page 32 of the draft guidance).

What’s Next for Science Based Targets for Nature

SBTN solicited feedback on the draft version of the Land Targets during their public consultation and the complete guidance is expected to be released in 2023. NCX has already provided feedback and we encourage others to read the draft. If you’re a corporate thinking about nature (which we hope you are!), contact SBTN to learn more.

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about the author

Dr. Sophie Gilbert

Dr. Sophie Gilbert

Senior Lead, Natural Capital Development
Dr. Sophie Gilbert is the Senior Lead for Natural Capital Development at NCX. Sophie works to expand ecosystem service credits beyond carbon to include wildlife and biodiversity and other key benefits that nature provides, and to help build natural capital markets. For more than 15 years, Sophie has advanced the fields of ecology and conservation to support sustainable wildlife populations in the changing modern world. She’s worked across diverse systems from Alaska through Canada and into the heart of the American West, and collaborate with interdisciplinary scientists, natural resource agencies, NGOs, indigenous groups, stakeholders, and citizen scientists. Sophie previously worked as a tenured professor at the University of Idaho, as well as work at the University of Alaska and University of Alberta and in environmental consulting. She earned her B.Sc. from the University of California Los Angeles and her Ph.D. from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.