Biotech and Pharma Industry Commitments to Climate Goals Fall Short

Only 4 percent of biotech and pharma companies have commitments aligned with 2030 Paris Agreement targets

A recent study conducted by My Green Lab, the leading global nonprofit promoting sustainable science, and Urgentem, an independent provider of emissions data, climate risk analytics, and advisory services, has found that the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries’ current commitments to climate goals fall short toward meeting the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s goal of keeping warming below the critical threshold of 1.5 °C. 

The study, titled The Carbon Impact of Biotech & Pharma: A roadmap to 1.5 °C, was released at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, earlier this month and includes data from 234 publicly-listed companies. The findings show that most biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies do not have climate commitments aligned with the UN’s 1.5 °C warming limit.

“Biotech and pharma are among the world’s largest carbon-emitting industries and must be a part of the global climate solution,” states the report. “To meet Paris Climate Agreement targets, the industry must continue to improve the quality and comparability of reporting, while taking rapid, measurable action to reduce emissions now.”

"The global biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry has a larger footprint than the forestry and paper and semiconductor industries, with a carbon footprint of 197 million tCO2e."

In fact, the findings show that the global biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry has a larger footprint than the forestry and paper and semiconductor industries, with a carbon footprint of 197 million tCO2e, which is almost half of the UK’s annual carbon output. That said, since the study only included 234 publicly listed companies and did not include data from private companies, universities, and government labs, the carbon impact of the industry is likely much higher.

This is the first study to include all emissions from a company’s value chain, including direct emissions (scope 1), such as from company facilities and vehicles, as well as indirect emissions, including emissions from purchased energy consumption (scope 2) and emissions upstream or downstream of a company (scope 3), such as emissions from purchased materials and goods, from transportation and distribution, or from processing their products. 

The study found that indirect scope 3 emissions were 4.7 times greater than scope 1 and 2 emissions combined. Further, it is clear from the reported 2015–2020 data that the industry only recently started to report indirect scope 3 emissions and only the largest companies by revenue are doing so. However, for emission reporting to be meaningful, these potentially “hidden” emissions must be considered when evaluating the industries’ footprints and when setting emissions goals. 

“Companies must establish more ambitious targets, and those commitments must be backed up by measurable actions,” write the study’s authors. “Decarbonizing scope 3 emissions will require companies to engage their customers and suppliers to reduce their emissions through energy efficiency, waste reduction, resource efficiency, as well as encouraging the purchasing of renewable energy and/or carbon offsets.”


Miriam Bergeret, MSc

Miriam Bergeret, MSc, is Clinical Lab Manager's interim managing editor.