On 2024-05-15
by Aubane Morel, Sustainability Consultant

Airbus Protect explains: the origins of sustainability & decarbonisation

Sustainability explained

Welcome to our blog series focused on sustainability

To begin our series, we will start by looking at the origins of sustainable development and explore basic knowledge on it. 

Airbus Protect has a full business unit dedicated to Sustainability services, supporting customers in building sustainable development policies demonstrating a strong commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

What are we talking about exactly?

The origins of sustainability as we know it

The Concept:

The idea of ‘sustainable development’ dates back to reports written in 1972. However, it took decades for this concept to reach the mainstream, and has only recently begun to be taken seriously by governments and private enterprises. 

Nowadays, the United Nations defines the concept into 17 Goals:

The Global Goals by the United Nations

Source: https://www.globalgoals.org/


The official definition of sustainable development (according to the UN) was set out in the 1987 Brundtland Report, which defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Report, named after UN President Gro Harlem Brundtland, found that the world’s most serious environmental problems were essentially due to widespread poverty in some parts of the world and unsustainable consumption and production patterns in others. It recommended a strategy to reconcile development and the environment. 

Since then, many conventions and summits have been held to create agreements on sustainability laws, data, and treaties, and here are some key events in the timeline of sustainable development.

The Actors:

The actors of sustainable development play a pivotal role in promoting responsible economic, social, and environmental practices, aiming to ensure a balance between present needs and those of future generations. 

Sustainability is a fairly broad concept, as demonstrated by the 17 goals set out by the United Nations. It is important to remember that this concept is often misleadingly reduced to climate change, due in particular to the urgency of this phenomenon. 

Focus on climate change 

Today, the issue of climate change has taken on a particular importance. Since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the increase of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.


On a macroscopic level, major phenomena have increased due to GHG emissions, such as: sea level rise, temperature increase, more storms, etc.

Recently, we have seen a growing awareness at international level, aided by the various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific organisation set up in 1988 by two United Nations bodies: the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its main objective is to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge needed to understand climate change, its potential impacts and the possibilities for adaptation and mitigation.

The IPCC operates as a forum where thousands of scientists from around the world collaborate to comprehensively review and evaluate available scientific data on the climate. It regularly produces assessment reports that are authoritative on climate change, providing a solid scientific basis for policymakers, governments, and other stakeholders to make informed decisions on climate-related policies and actions.

The reports of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are  globally-recognised and highly-respected as references in the field of climate change, and its findings have helped raise public awareness about climate issues and spur global actions to reduce GHG  emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The sixth Assessment Report (AR6) began its release in 2021 with an update about the Physical Science Basis of climate change. The final synthesis report was finished in March 2023. To get more information about the ongoing AR6, there are a number of things worth looking at: the summary for policymakers; the Figures and the press conference slides

The United Nations Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 by 196 signatories, reflects the key findings and recommendations from IPCC successive reports: setting the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial level (with efforts to limit it into 1.5°C) and emphasising on the importance of enhancing adaptive capacity and fostering resilience to climate change. 

It is also important to note that while we talk mainly about climate change, other organisations are working on sustainability goals, such as  the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It is another intergovernmental panel that operates in a similar way to the IPCC. The IPBES aims to enhance the interface between science and policy on biodiversity and ecosystem services issues.

Have you heard about Climate Fresk ?

Do you want to develop your understanding further to unravel these reports, and grow your overall sustainability comprehension?
One of the main ambitions of Airbus Protect’ sustainability policy is to develop a strong environmental awareness throughout the company and to give all functions and teams the means to take action in their areas of activity. Therefore, Airbus Protect has the objective to roll out the Climate Fresk workshop to a maximum of employees.

The Climate Fresk is an association created by Cédric Rigenbach in 2018. It encourages the rapid and large-scale dissemination of an understanding of climate issues through a fun and collaborative game. It is a workshop based on scientific data that helps to understand more deeply the causes and consequences of climate change. Following this workshop, an ideation phase allows participants to collectively brainstorm on actions to be deployed at team and company level.

Decarbonisation: How can businesses reduce their carbon footprint in line with the international Paris agreement?

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) was created in 2014, in order to help companies align their emission reduction efforts with the goals of the United Nations Paris Agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Concretely, the SBTi defines how much and how quickly a business must reduce its emissions to be in line with this goal.

This is a joint collaboration of several major international organisations: the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Its ambition is to provide a methodological framework based on scientific data and specific criteria to determine whether a company’s emission reduction targets are consistent with climate science. 

The SBTi produced a reference standard called the Net Zero Standard. Corporate Net zero is defined  as: 

  • “Reducing scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions to zero or a residual level consistent with reaching global net-zero emissions or at a sector level in eligible 1.5°C-aligned pathways
  • Permanently neutralising any residual emissions at the net-zero target year and any GHG emissions released into the atmosphere thereafter”

Four key elements are expected to build the  decarbonisation roadmap of companies:

  • Near term science-based target: Around 5  to 10 years target.
    Once the short-term target date is reached, they must calculate new short-term science-based targets to serve as milestones on the way to their long-term science-based target.
  • Long term science-based target: In order to reach the Net zero standard no later than 2050 (or 2040 for the power sector). 
  • Beyond value chain mitigation (BVCM):  An approach to emissions reduction that goes beyond simply reducing a company’s direct emissions (scope 1) and those associated with the electricity it purchases (scope 2). Instead, this approach also incorporates the indirect emissions associated with the company’s value chain, which includes emissions generated throughout the life cycle of the company’s products or services, from the extraction of raw materials to the end of the product’s life.
  • Neutralisation of residual emissions : Once reducing 90% of their GHG emissions, there is also a critical need for companies to invest in emerging GHG removal technologies (e.g. direct air capture and storage) so that the technology is available to neutralise remaining emissions by the long-term, science-based target date. 

The targets developed by the company  must be submitted to the SBTi for a complete validation. They must be credible and followed by actual planification. The pathways used by the SBTi are determined on the basis of a combination of scientific evidence and principled judgement. The company will then have to report emissions and track target progress annually. Airbus itself went through this entire process and now reports on results.

Companies that commit to setting emission reduction targets in line with the SBTi methodology receive international recognition for their efforts to combat climate change, which can enhance their reputation and competitiveness in the marketplace. It also helps accelerate the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

Wondering how vulnerable is your business to climate change? Not sure how to set your science-based target and build your decarbonisation roadmap? The Airbus Protect team can help you. Contact us to find out more.

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