Organisation setting beef industry targets changes carbon credit rules

Eric Barker, 18/04/2024

Editors note: since this article was written the SBTi has clarified its position further on the use of offsets, with its statement published at the bottom. An original version of the article said the SBTi had banned the use of offsets, as opposed allowing companies to offset a maximum of five-10pc. 


AN organisation which has been quietly setting a lot of beef industry targets has made a big shift in its position on carbon credits.

The Science Based Targets initiative is a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and several organisations trying to influence global company environmental targets – including the UN Global Compact, CDP, We Mean Business and the World Resources Institute.

Many see the direction of the SBTi having more influence the beef industry than Government targets, with some of the biggest agricultural banks and supply chains signed up.

Last week, it made a significant change to its position on carbon credits – allowing for companies to purchase offsets from outside their supply chains to meet carbon goals.

The organisation launched its net zero standard in 2021, raising concerns about companies relying heavily on purchasing offsets to reach their targets. It put in guidelines to make companies focus more on reducing emissions within their own supply chains and said no more than five to 10 percent of emissions should be offset by carbon credits outside supply chains.

With the SBTi encouraging carbon reductions to come form within supply chains, many have been trying to find ways of accounting for that – coming up with a concept called “insetting”.

But in a statement form the board last week, SBTi has decided it was exploring the idea of allowing companies to purchase offsets for the scope 3 emissions.

What does it mean for the cattle industry?

Some of the cattle industry’s biggest supply chains, including McDonald’s, Coles and Teys joint venture partner Cargill are signed up to the SBTi – with on farm emissions, particularly livestock methane, falling under their scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are from activities not owned or controlled by a company but associated with the supply chain.

Many opinions have been expressed about the push towards insetting, with some saying it is a chance for supply chains to work together and tell the story of the beef industry and others concerned it could devalue work of producers making an effort to sequester carbon and turn a carrot into a stick.

Ian McConnel addressing the 2019 Northern Territory Cattlemens’ Association conference in Darwin earlier in March.

Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef executive committee member and consultant Ian McConnel said the latest change was a double-edged sword for the industry.

“It creates more competition for carbon sequestration on farm which provides a lot of opportunity at the farm level,” Mr McConnel said.

“From a supply chain perspective, they will have to compete with outside companies to buy the carbon sequestration which will make it hard for our products to be seen by consumers as carbon or climate friendly.”

Mr McConnel said there was still a lot of unknown on how the SBTi will instigate the changes, and to what extent, with a consultation period coming up.

He said most of the livestock-related companies signed up to the SBTi are looking at a 30pc emissions reduction by 2030 – with some more and less ambitious – with the scope 3 emissions focused more on efficiency than a total reduction.

“It is not as onerous as some people think, it is 2.4pc improvement on efficiency from 2016 and a lot them are getting close with genetic gain and traceability in their supply chains,” he said.

Where next for carbon offsets?

The SBTi’s move has been controversial, with several media outlets reporting that the organisation’s staff wrote to the board asking them to step down.

Their main concern is that it could encourage companies to greenwash, by allowing them to purchase carbon offsets and not directly invest anything into reducing their own emissions.

Carbon offsets have been controversial across the world, with an international system called Verra coming under sustained criticism for the offsets it was approving – forcing the CEO to stand down last year.

Australia’s own system has had criticism, with a group of scientists from the Australian National University labelling the system a fraud, sparking a review and series of changes. The review found no issue with the integrity of the credits – a finding still disputed by the ANU scientists.

The SBTi’s statement said under the right settings, carbon offsets were part of the solution for companies.

“While recognising that there is an ongoing healthy debate on the subject matter, SBTi recognises 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,” it said.

“SBTi will not embark in validating carbon credits quality. Other entities are better positioned to deal with this activity. SBTi will enable all validating entities to have clear access and complete understanding of the demand side guardrails and rules established by SBTi for this purpose.

John Connor

In the case of company targets, Carbon Market Institute chief executive officer John Connor said discussion about the use of carbon credits and other market-based certificates were important.

“In some cases, there is no doubt that flexibility is required where companies have limited control and influence over decarbonisation efforts within their supply chains,” Mr Connor said.

“However, this cannot be a substitute for transformative strategies and partnerships to effect emissions reductions across their value chains.”

Australia’s carbon market would likely exist without demand from companies voluntarily setting targets, as the Government has legislated many big emitting companies to offset excess emissions.

Mr Connor said it was still important for supply chains to work together to reduce emissions.

“A credible corporate transition requires concerted efforts to address all emissions, including Scope 3 supply chain emissions associated with suppliers and the impact of products and commodities on downstream markets.

“As one of the world’s top exporters of downstream emissions, the risks associated with scope 3 emissions are particularly acute for the Australian business community.

“Scope 3 emissions are inherently complex for businesses to manage and disclose and it is therefore important that best practice guidance and regulation facilitates a pathway towards greater corporate action.

“CMI’s new Member and Sponsorship Policy that was launched in March balances the need to address Scope 3 emissions and the challenges associated with that task.”

  • The SBTi is planning to publish a discussion paper in July

SBTi board releases updated statement

“The Board’s statement on 9 April was a strategic steer to further explore the role that Environmental Attribute Certificates may be able to play in climate mitigation, as part of the process of revising SBTi’s Net Zero Standard.

The Board of Trustees acted according to their remit to set the strategic direction for SBTi, while respecting the organization’s standard operating procedures.

Crucially, the Board will continue to secure that any potential use of market instruments will include guardrails, rules and thresholds that will ensure the global emissions decline, in the near and long term.

The Board acknowledges that this is a sensitive area and regrets that the statement was open to misinterpretation. The Board’s commitment to the Standard revision process and consultation with all relevant stakeholders is unwavering.”


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  1. Rod Webb, 21/04/2024

    Methane remains in our atmosphere for about 12 years (UCDavis). The global cattle herd has declined slightly in the past 20 years (Statista). Therefore methane in the atmosphere as a result of cattle farming is in a steady state – not increasing nor decreasing – it breaks down at the same rate that it is emitted. So why would anyone pay for carbon credits for something that, consider on its own, should have no net effect at all on increasing global temperatures?

    • Bruce Easton, 02/05/2024

      Assuming your premise is right, I think the answer is that we are trying to reduce the CO2 in our atmosphere rather than keep it at the levels that we have got it to now. Hope that helps.

  2. Jack Warren, 21/04/2024

    The SBTi has never discouraged funding carbon reduction projects often called offsets. They just recognised that if we offset all our emissions, then there will still be emissions. They applied the impetus to reduce our own emissions.

    They have also not changed the rules. This is a misrepresentation of the truth, certainly an innocent mistake on the writer.

    The SBTi has announced they are considering including offsets in scope 3 abatement, but nothing is confirmed and the guardrails and rules they may apply have not been decided.

    Frankly there’s nothing to talk about until there’s actually something to talk about.

  3. Michelle Finger, 20/04/2024

    Two questions:

    1) how/why could we end up in a situation where ANY organisation is “quietly setting a lot of beef industry targets” ??

    2) where is the demonstrated mandate from PRODUCERS that permits “The Science Based Targets initiative”, the World Wildlife Fund, the UN Global Compact, CDP, “We Mean Business” and the “World Resources Institute” to set any goals for OUR businesses??

  4. Paul Franks, 18/04/2024

    Scope 3 emissions are quite bizarre. Going to many websites for the definition of scope 3 emissions the definition seems to be essentially every emission from the creation or production of everything the business consumes, and also every emission from whatever is created by anyone of business that uses or consumes your product right to the end.

    “Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly affects in its value chain. An organization’s value chain consists of both its upstream and downstream activities.”

    It gets really bizarre. Take a producer, the definition seems to be they have to account for all emissions that get created because of them. this would even get into the nitty gritty of the computers of the NLIS system do they use renewable electricity or coal/gas fired electricity. If they get audited, then they have to account for the emissions of the auditor. If they have to go to the accountant or solicitor, their emissions have to come into it. Go to the stock and station agent and buy something. Well better add that to your scope 3 emissions. get some contract fencers in. Have to get their emissions from them as well.

    Of course they will have to report their emissions to the NLIS company or accountants or solicitors or supermarket, etc so they can account for their scope 3 emissions.

    Then downstream they have to find out the emissions of the transport company, processing plant, then the emissions of the next party. Fast food multinationals will have to get consumers to tell them their emissions to travel to the fast food eatery, all the way down to the emissions of the sewerage treatment plant in whatever country.

    In fact everyone will have to correctly calculate and then report to everyone else for these scope 3 emissions to be correctly reported and accounted for.

    For some reason I am not greatly surprised such an idea has been considered sensible and workable.

    • Michelle Finger, 20/04/2024

      If everyone is counting emissions both if what they consume (personally or as a business), & what they produce … everything will be counted TWICE.

      • Jack Warren, 21/04/2024

        This is actually the intent. All emissions fit somewhere in someone’s scope 1. Scope 2 emissions are the emissions of the power generator providing the electricity (typically, there are more than just electricity in scope 2, but this distracts the point.

        The intent behind the scopes is mapping what emissions exist, and which emissions one has influence over. The high the number, the less direct influence.

        If we don’t count scope 2 and 3, you end up blind to many opportunities available to make reductions

        Hope it helps 🙂

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