Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Aligning corporate greenhouse-gas emissions targets with climate goals


Corporate climate action is increasingly considered important in driving the transition towards a low-carbon economy1. For this, it is critical to ensure translation of global goals to greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets at company level2,3. At the moment, however, there is a lack of clear methods to derive consistent corporate target setting that keeps cumulative corporate GHG emissions within a specific carbon budget (for example, 550–1,300 GtCO2 between 2011 and 2050 for the 2 °C target4). Here we propose a method for corporate emissions target setting that derives carbon intensity pathways for companies based on sectoral pathways from existing mitigation scenarios: the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA). These company targets take activity growth and initial performance into account. Next to target setting on company level, the SDA can be used by companies, policymakers, investors or other stakeholders as a benchmark for tracking corporate climate performance and actions, providing a mechanism for corporate accountability.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Targets for six hypothetical steel companies.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Persson, Å & Rockström, J. Business leaders. Nature Clim. Change 1, 426–427 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Sullivan, R. & Gouldson, A. Ten years of corporate action on climate change: What do we have to show for it? Energy Policy 60, 733–740 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Gouldson, A. & Sullivan, R. Long-term corporate climate change targets: What could they deliver? Environ. Sci. Policy 27, 1–10 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Blok, K., Höhne, N., van der Leun, K. & Harrison, N. Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap. Nature Clim. Change 2, 1–4 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Climate Commitments of Subnational Actors and Business: A Quantitative Assessment of Their Emission Reduction Impact (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2015);

  7. Höhne, N., den Elzen, M. & Escalante, D. Regional GHG reduction targets based on effort sharing: A comparison of studies. Clim. Policy 14, 122–147 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Akimoto, K. et al. Global emission reductions through a sectoral intensity target scheme. Clim. Policy 8, S46–S59 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Phylipsen, G. J. M., Bode, J. W. & Blok, K. A triptych sectoral approach to burden differentiation; GHG emissions in the European bubble. Energy Policy 26, 929–943 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Trancik, J. E., Chang, M. T., Karapataki, C. & Stokes, L. C. Effectiveness of a segmental approach to climate policy. Environ. Sci. Policy 48, 27–35 (2014).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Pauliuk, S., Dhaniati, N. M. A. & Müller, D. B. Reconciling sectoral abatement strategies with global climate targets: The case of the chinese passenger vehicle fleet. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 140–147 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Girod, B., van Vuuren, D. P. & Hertwich, E. G. Corrigendum: Global climate targets and future consumption level: An evaluation of the required GHG intensity. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 029501 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. The 3% Solution: Driving Profits Through Carbon Reduction (CDP & WWF, 2013);

  14. Ford’s Science-Based CO2 Targets (Ford, 2012);

  15. Stewart, E. & Deodhar, A. A Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilizing Targets (”C-FACT”) 1–11 (Autodesk, 2009);

    Google Scholar 

  16. Randers, J. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of value added (‘GEVA’)—A corporate guide to voluntary climate action. Energy Policy 48, 46–55 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Energy Technology Perspectives 2014 (IEA, 2014);

  18. Van Vuuren, D. P. et al. RCP2.6: Exploring the possibility to keep global mean temperature increase below 2 °C. Climatic Change 109, 95–116 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. A Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard (Greenhouse Gas Protocol, 2004);

  20. Unruh, G. C. Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy 28, 817–830 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The target-setting approach proposed in this article is developed as a part of the Science Based Targets initiative; a collaborative effort of CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and WWF. The authors would like to thank the International Energy Agency for providing the data of their 2DS scenario.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



O.K. acquired, analysed and interpreted the data, and drafted the manuscript. G.L. and K.B. designed and led the study and contributed to the analysis and interpretation of the data. W.C.-G., N.H. and D.P.v.V. critically reviewed the manuscript. P.F., N.A. and A.C.P. contributed to developing the methodological approach and aided in improving the mathematical formulae.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giel Linthorst.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Krabbe, O., Linthorst, G., Blok, K. et al. Aligning corporate greenhouse-gas emissions targets with climate goals. Nature Clim Change 5, 1057–1060 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing