Decarbonization 101
Planning for Decarbonization

Setting Decarbonization Goals and Targets

May 28, 2024
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This lesson guides organizations in setting decarbonization goals, emphasizing the importance of selecting emission reduction targets, aligning ambitions, considering scope and coverage, defining timeframes, and tailoring targets to sectors, ultimately emphasizing milestones and monitoring for sustainable progress.

“Adopting an all-encompassing decarbonization plan is not merely an option; it is a necessity for our shared tomorrow. Through methodically decreasing carbon emissions and shifting to more environmentally friendly and sustainable methods, we chart a course toward a robust, carbon-neutral planet, ensuring the protection of the environment for future generations.”

- Cecilia Knaggs, Customer Experience Manager at Persefoni

Setting decarbonization goals and targets involves establishing milestones to reduce greenhouse (GHG) gas emissions and achieve a low-carbon or carbon-neutral state. These goals provide clear direction and measurable progress toward a sustainable, climate-friendly future.

decarbonization goals and targets

Emission Reduction Targets

Consider what your organization’s ideal desired level of GHG emissions reductions is. In other words, how much would you like to reduce your organization’s GHG emissions? 

This can take shape in a variety of ways:

  • An internal target focused on the percentage of emissions reduction compared to a baseline year (ex: Emissions reduction of 20% compared to 2018)
  • An SBT-aligned target focused on absolute reduction in emissions (ex: Absolute reduction of emissions by 15%)
  • Achieving net zero emissions by a specific year (ex: Net-zero emissions by 2050)

Let’s break down each of these components and look at some examples through the lens of Quadial Inc. 

While Quadial Inc. has ambitious goals for its decarbonization plan, it is unsure of which target to choose. Instead of independently setting a goal of reducing their overall emissions by 20%, the organization considers following the process of setting a Science-Based Target, which is a clearly defined pathway for companies to reduce GHG emissions that align with the Paris Climate Agreement, an international treaty that aims to keep global average temperatures well below 2°C. 

Ambition and Alignment

Take inventory of your organization’s sustainability ambitions. More ambitious and aggressive emissions reductions require faster timelines and higher levels of reduction initiatives within your organization. 

Additionally, setting aggressive targets encourages innovation and identifying additional reduction opportunities. Your organization may also find it helpful to align with internationally recognized movements to achieve overall global climate goals.

Quadial Inc. feels confident about its selection of a science-based target (SBT) since it aligns with the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi), a global collaborative partnership that drives ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling organizations to set near-term and long-term science-based emissions reduction targets. According to Harvard Business Review, 1,000 companies have set an SBTi reduction target as of November 2021.

Committing to an SBT sets an industry standard and highlights your organization as a leader. While there are benefits to publicly committing to emissions reductions through the SBTi, it is important to remember the complexity and difficulty associated with decarbonizing across the value chain compared to focusing solely on your operations.

Scope and Coverage

Depending on your organization, decide which scopes are material to your decarbonization goals. 

  • Scope 1 - direct emissions owned by an organization
  • Scope 2 - indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heat, or steam
  • Scope 3 - indirect emissions that are not directly owned by an organization but occur in the value chain

Reporting on scopes 1 and 2 is mandatory under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), and is relatively straightforward to collect data for due to an organization’s ownership or direct influence of data sources. 

While reporting on scope 3 is optional under GHGP, an organization may opt to include scope 3 emissions in their reporting to disclose a more comprehensive carbon footprint, identify emission hotspots within its value chain, meet stakeholder expectations, assess challenges related to climate-related risks, and effectively address climate targets.

Will your organization include scopes 1 and 2, or will you tackle all three? 

Quadial Inc. opts to disclose all three scopes within its value chain. While this is technically optional under the GHGP, Quadial Inc. understands the importance of considering scope and coverage and wants to become an industry leader within its sector. 


Setting a clear timeframe defines which goalposts your organization can aim toward. The Near-Term and Long-Term Target Types are taken from SBTi guidelines:

  • Near-Term Target Type: Includes a 5–10 year emission reduction target in line with 1.5°C scenarios. 
  • Long-Term Target Type: Aims to reduce emissions to a residual level in line with 1.5°C scenarios by no later than 2050.

Quadial Inc. recognizes the immense effort required in disclosing all three emission scopes within its value chain and chooses a Long-Term Target Type, allowing the organization ample time to adjust its operations.

Sector-Specific Targets

Recognizing various sectors produce varying emissions levels is important for achieving decarbonization efforts. 

  • Tailoring targets to specific sectors acknowledges the individual opportunities, technology, and traits that specific industries (such as energy, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation) each possess. 
  • For example, sustainability leaders within Quadial Inc. recognize that what is essential for decarbonizing the food and beverage industry may not necessarily apply to the chemical industry.

Setting Milestones and Monitoring Your Reporting

Setting milestones and long-term goals provides a manageable way of approaching your decarbonization journey. While the overall achievement may be no small feat, you can maintain momentum by setting regular check-ins and factoring in adjustments.

Establishing robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms is crucial for tracking progress toward decarbonization goals. Regular assessment of relevant criteria such as emissions and energy consumption enables your organization to gauge its progress and determine if adjustments are necessary.

Since Quadial Inc. aims to disclose scopes 1, 2, and 3 over a long-term period, the organization must continuously check in and monitor their reporting to sustain the momentum and quality of its decarbonization plans.

Now that you’ve learned about reduction targets, let’s define scenario planning to work toward decarbonizing your organization’s carbon footprint.

Up Next
Decarbonization Scenario Planning
Scenario planning enables organizations to assess the risks, benefits, and challenges of different decarbonization pathways, providing a holistic view of future possibilities and helping them make informed business decisions in the face of climate change uncertainties.