Science-based targets can mean change within the system – or involve challenging it

Deforestation in Sierra Leone

Science-based targets can be framed as reformist, radical, or even a mixture of both. Photo: Radwan Skeiky via Canva.

Is it possible to fundamentally transform a system while you’re working within it? Or do you have to challenge the system?

For the people working on methods for science-based targets, these are central questions. Over the past years, science-based targets have been developed as a way for private companies to contribute to global sustainability goals, such as those relating to biodiversity and climate change.

According to a new interpretative study, such science-based targets involve a paradox. They try to fit into the current capitalist system, whilst also trying to change it. As a result, those working on them try to appeal to the powerful, to increase uptake of the targets and make greater change for sustainability. Yet, this limits what kind of changes can be talked about in the first place.

The study shows how science-based targets can be framed as reformist, radical, or even a mixture of both. But what are the implications of having these different interpretations? Due to the many yet-unanswered questions when it comes to science-based targets, those working on them could benefit from active reflection on their role in change processes, suggest the authors of the study.

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Published: 2024-03-18

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