Everything food companies need to know to set FLAG Science-Based Targets

Learn how to set and meet your SBTi FLAG Target
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What is FLAG Guidance?

FLAG Guidance is a set of guidelines established by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), allowing companies in land-intensive industries (Forest, Land, and Agriculture) to set near and long-term, science-based targets to reduce their GHG emissions.

FLAG Guidance applies to any companies over 500 employees in land-intensive industries that have set or plan to set Science-Based Targets. In short, FLAG enables these companies to design a more efficient strategy for reaching carbon reduction goals by separating out their land-based emissions and reductions as well as carbon removals in their measurement, target-setting and reporting processes.

Land-related emissions account for 22% of global emissions, but the land sector in general has the potential to deliver 30% of climate mitigation by 2050. Given the opportunity for the land sector to use nature-based solutions to remove and store carbon, FLAG will play a critical role in enabling companies to measure and improve their emissions, and strategize for removals most effectively.

Who will need to follow FLAG Guidance?

FLAG applies to companies setting SBTi targets under these 2 scenarios:
  • Companies with land-intensive activity in their value chain need to set FLAG targets, such as crop & livestock agriculture, food & beverage processing, food & staples retailing, forest & paper products, and tobacco.
  • Companies in any other SBTi-designated sector must still set a FLAG target if their total FLAG-related emissions total more than 20% of overall emissions across Scopes 1, 2, and 3.

When will FLAG Guidance go into effect?

FLAG Guidance is already in effect, as of September 2022.

If you are a company with an existing SBTi target and fall within the requirements to set a FLAG target, you must add a FLAG target within 6 months of the release of finalized GHG Protocol Land Sector and Removals (LSR) Guidance.

If you do not have any validated SBTi targets, but plan to set a target within the SBTi framework (and still fall within the requirements of FLAG), you must submit all targets at the same time.

Note on LSR Guidance Timeline: The GHG Protocol Land Sector and Removals Guidance (LSR) is currently under final review, but a draft version has been released. SBTi is allowing companies who have already submitted and validated an overall target to set their FLAG-specific target 6 months after the final release of LSR guidance. After April 30, 2023, any company looking to submit an overall SBTi target must also set a separate FLAG target. The Science Based Targets initiative recommends using the draft version of GHG Protocol LSR guidance for this purpose.

How to set a FLAG target

There are 2 approaches to setting a FLAG target:
  • The default Sector pathway is best for companies with diversified supply chains. This pathway requires an absolute reduction in FLAG emissions of 30.3% by 2030 across the company’s portfolio.
  • The Commodity pathway is an option for companies that have more than 10% of their emissions associated with the following commodities: beef, poultry, dairy, leather, maize, palm oil, pork, rice, soy, wheat, and timber & wood fiber.
Companies may use a combination of commodity pathways and the sector pathway to achieve their overall target-setting.

FLAG emissions and removals categories

The following categories must be measured and broken out for FLAG target setting:
  • Land Management: any activity occurring on the field where a commodity is grown
  • Land Use Change: any land conversion that has occurred in the last 20 years
  • Carbon Removals: any carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere due to on-farm activity

Land Management

  • Enteric emissions
  • Flooded soil for lowland rice
  • Manure management
  • Agricultural waste burning
  • Fertilizer
  • Crop residue
  • Machinery used on-farm
  • Transport of biomass

Land Use Change

  • Deforestation
  • Forest degradation
  • Coastal wetlands conversion
  • Peatlands conversion / draining / burning
  • Savannahs and natural grasslands conversion

Carbon Removals

  • Forest restoration / silvopasture
  • Improved forest management
  • Agroforestry
  • Enhancing soil organic carbon

FLAG target requirements

The FLAG tool will determine a company’s reduction target for them based on the company’s base year, target year, and baseline emissions. The following key requirements are directed by SBTi FLAG.

    5-10 year emission reduction targets in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C
    Including improving forest management practices, and enhancing soil carbon sequestration on working lands

    Companies in FLAG sectors will reduce at least 72% of emissions by no later than 2050

    In line with the Accountability Framework initiative (AFI)

    Businesses with land-based emissions are required to set FLAG science-based targets AND science-based targets, since all companies product fossil emissions

The FLAG tool will determine a company’s reduction target for them based on the company’s base year, target year, and baseline emissions.

Data requirements for FLAG target setting

SBTi has specified they are looking for completeness of data and accuracy in the development of FLAG targets. Companies are required to provide sufficient insight into the level of data granularity they are utilizing for their approach. For companies with complex supply chains in particular, utilizing emissions databases is likely necessary for creating a full GHG inventory.

SBTi FLAG Guidance vs. GHG Protocol LSR Guidance

The GHG Protocol Land Sector and Removals Guidance provides a framework for measuring and accounting for land-related greenhouse gas emissions, but does not provide direction on setting reduction targets.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) provides a framework for setting these targets, and FLAG (under SBTi) specifically is a set of guidelines for land-intensive sectors, which historically have been difficult to evaluate, in terms of target-setting and GHG measurement.

Land Sector and Removals (LSR) Guidance

  • Instructs companies on how to account for and report land use change emissions in GHG inventories
  • GHG accounting is needed to track progress toward achieving SBTi FLAG targets
  • Currently in draft consultation status; expected to be released 2024

Land Use Change

  • Enables companies to make commitments and set targets for the reduction of land sector emissions
  • Aligned to LSR's 3 categories of emissions and removals
  • Released September 2022; pending final LSR guidance

Frequently asked questions

What does FLAG stand for?

Forestry, Land, and Agriculture. This sector describes companies with land-intensive activities that involve agriculture, forestry, or other land use.

What are FLAG targets?

Guidelines, including a target-setting tool, from the SBTi for companies in land-intensive sectors to set near-term emission targets aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Who is required to set a FLAG target?

Companies with land-intensive activities in their value chain that have set or plan to set Science-Based Targets are required to set FLAG targets.

What are the deadlines for setting FLAG targets?

Any company meeting the criteria must set a FLAG target if submitting an SBTi target for the first time. For companies with existing SBTi targets (prior to April 30th, 2023) the deadline is 6 months after the finalization of GHG Protocol Land Sector and Removals (LSR) guidance (Expected mid-2024).

Can carbon credits be used to meet FLAG targets?

Carbon credits issued outside of a company’s chain cannot contribute towards meeting FLAG targets, only emission reductions and removals inside of a company’s supply chain can contribute towards meeting a FLAG target, often referred to as “insets.”

What needs to be included in a FLAG target?

Any activities associated with Land Management and Land Use Change must be included in a FLAG target. Carbon Removals are also required and must be broken out separately.