Changemakers for the future

Alberto Carrillo Pineda, the Science-Based Targets initiative

“The momentum is unstoppable – but we need to imprint it with more speed”

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Alberto Carrillo Pineda, Managing Director and Co-Founder of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

“When I was a teenager, I spent few weeks in remote indigenous areas in Mexico. That was when I realised the needs the poorest people have and saw their struggle to access even the most basic services, such as drinking water. When I was at university, I became interested in solutions that can help. That was what brought me to the environmental field.

I started becoming more and more interested in climate change. I saw an opportunity to link climate mitigation with providing more opportunities for people who live below the poverty line. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I specialised in climate change during my postgraduate studies. Since then, I’ve focused my career on climate change mitigation.

Corporate climate action

We started the SBTi in 2014. It’s a collaborative effort between CDP, the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Our goal is simple: to drive climate action in the corporate sector to limit global temperature rise to 1.5⁰C, in line with the goal of the Paris Agreement. We do this by enabling companies and financial institutions to set ambitious science-based emission reduction targets.

In May 2015, we launched a call to action, inviting companies to commit to ambitious climate targets. There was a lot of momentum in the run up to COP21 in Paris in December 2015, with the expectation that world leaders would agree to a global climate agreement. In the first six months, over 100 companies signed our call to action. That was when we realised that we were onto something promising.

From 2015, it took us nearly five years to scale up to 1,000 companies, covering about 20% of the global economy. From then, it’s only taken one more year to reach double the number of companies. This shows the exponential growth we’re experiencing. And it’s what’s needed to mitigate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Paradigm shift

Since 2015, I think the SBTi has been able to drive through several paradigm shifts. Before, most companies were defining the ambition of their climate targets in a very subjective way. To date, we have over 2,800 companies setting targets that are aligned to the global goals for achieving net-zero.

Previously, it was also not common for companies to have their targets scrutinised by a third party. Now, it is a common expectation for companies to submit their targets for third party validation. This is key to create accountability and credibility.

And the scope and quality of targets has also changed significantly. In the past, most companies were cherry-picking the scope and activities and sources of emissions included in their targets. They focused on the low hanging fruit and left out more complex, impactful activities. The SBTi has really put the focus on companies setting the targets where they have the largest impact.

Reality check

For those of us who spend day and night working on climate change mitigation, we’re always confronted by the reality that emissions are just not reducing at the pace that’s needed. We see increased momentum and action, but it’s still not enough to bend the curve. It’s still insufficient to have an impact on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

To deliver on our mission and halt global warming, we need the majority of emissions to be covered by ambitious science-based targets. By 2030, corporate emissions need to be halved, compared to the emissions today, and be on a declining trajectory consistent with reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century. The real success factor is: can we bend the curve of emissions or not? This is what will define not only our success, but the success of the broader climate movement.

Signals for optimism

There are many signals for optimism. It is amazing to see the rate at which climate solutions are being deployed. This has been true for renewable electricity for some years, and now we’re seeing the same pattern with the electrification of transport. We’re in the early days with industry electrification and hydrogen, but we are seeing promising developments.

Thinking about systemic transformation, some of the largest financial institutions and companies, and some of the largest emitting countries, have committed to reduce emissions and are bringing this to implementation. So, I think the momentum we already have is unstoppable – we just need to imprint it with more speed.

Hopes for the future

If I had 10 minutes to speak at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference, I would call on global leaders to approach climate change as the emergency that it is. We have seen from the pandemic, and more from energy security crisis, how the world can react rapidly when there is an urgent global need. Sudden changes that were once unimaginable can occur. This sense of emergency is what we’re missing in our response to climate change.

I’m always amazed by the fact that there are so many brave people trying to create a better world. Behind each of the companies going through a low-carbon transformation, there is always one person who starts this process. One person who goes against the status quo. It’s important to recognise the human factor behind this transformation. There’s always someone within a company, a financial institution or a government who is triggering the change process.

Alberto Carrillo is a co-founder and the Managing Director of the Science Based Targets Initiative.

The SBTi supports companies by setting and validating credible emissions reductions targets. Its aim is that by 2025, the majority of companies will have committed to reducing their emissions in line with the 1.5°C global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement. The IKEA Foundation is supporting the SBTi because we believe that its guidance will enable many more companies to transform ther business models in line with net-zero emissions and create a cleaner, greener, sustainable planet.