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Tesco receives SBTi’s approval for science-based emissions targets, with more retailers called on to set climate goals

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Aerial view of Scottish rural scene with a loch and woodland

Tesco has become one of the first food retailers globally to receive approval for its science-based emissions targets from the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), the official body that validates climate targets.

The supermarket will work towards reducing Scope 3 emissions coming from forests, land, and agriculture by 39% and achieving a 55% emissions reduction target for energy and industrial Scope 3 emissions by 2032. It says these validated targets will help it become carbon neutral across its operations by 2035, and value chain by 2050.

Tesco’s targets are considered science-based as they are said to be in line with what the latest climate science considers necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

To achieve these targets, Tesco is prioritising development in six areas. These include reducing the environmental impact of products sold, cutting transportation-related emissions, reducing store emissions, helping customers consume healthier and more sustainable food, reducing food and packaging waste in production and customers’ homes, and finding ways to restore natural habitats and boost biodiversity.

Its activity will include scaling up deforestation-free feed sources, rolling out more agricultural innovations such as low carbon fertiliser and the continued decarbonisation of Tesco’s store estate and transport networks.

The news has been mostly well received by campaigners, with several calling on other supermarkets in the country to follow suit.

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of WWF, which works with the SBTi, said in a statement: “We welcome Tesco’s important step forward in setting SBTi-validated emission targets; this must now be matched by action to drive down emissions across their entire value chain. 

“We are calling on all UK food retailers to match this ambition by setting science-based climate targets across their value chains and acting to put our food system on a sustainable footing, from farm to fork.”

Dr Tracey Jones, Director of Food Business at Compassion in World Farming also welcomed the news, but stressed a full transformation of the UK food system, and specifically industrial livestock production, was essential to tackle climate change: “Industrial animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, deforestation and biodiversity loss. We work with retailers to not only improve their animal welfare standards but to shift away from an overreliance on animal-sourced foods which is needed for planetary and human health. Tesco’s sustainable diets work enables this, provided that all the meat and dairy consumed is from higher welfare sources.

“Consumers have demonstrated they want to minimise their environmental footprint and care about animal welfare. So, anything supermarkets can do to support a win for people, planet, animals is strongly encouraged. We hope other retailers follow suit.”

Rebecca Tobi, Senior Engagement Manager at the Food Foundation also praised the supermarket, adding that it should reveal more information on how it plans to achieve net zero. She said in a statement: “The independent validation of Tesco’s Net Zero targets by the Science Based Targets Initiative is great to see, and shows Tesco are taking their climate change commitments seriously. We now need other food businesses and retailers to follow suit, and for Tesco to continue towards working towards their strategy for reducing emissions with a concrete plan of action for hitting their targets.”

Founder and CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden also stressed the retailer should provide a more thorough plan. He told Food Matters Live: “It’s reasonably positive that Tesco is making the 2035 target for their own in-house operations, but they will have to have a very substantial investment in offsets to go net carbon zero.

“The devil is in the detail – are they going to measure the carbon footprint of their suppliers? If they are going to go net carbon zero that must mean not just reducing the footprint of their suppliers but achieving a net carbon sequestration on farms.”

He also added that Tesco’s deadline for becoming carbon neutral across the value chain should be sooner. “2050 sounds like the next generation to me. Bring the date forward, show us your plans for the farmers because the farmers are waiting for signals from retailers.”

Developing eco-labels for food products in supermarkets is also necessary to help reduce emissions, he concluded: “Tesco needs a labelling scheme which enables its own consumers to purchase from net-zero systems so that way they can get the market to help them.”
The retailer did trial an environmental labelling system in virtual reality alongside Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Co-op last year, but has not yet mentioned if or when it plans to introduce the climate-conscious labels in-store.  


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