UK universities struggling to reach 2020 emissions target

Despite progress being made to tackle carbon emissions in the higher education sector, universities are still struggling to achieve collective 2020 reduction pledges, according to the latest Brite Green Higher Education Sector Carbon Progress Report.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) set an initial target for universities to reduce emissions by 43% by 2020

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) set an initial target for universities to reduce emissions by 43% by 2020

After reporting an overall increase in University carbon emissions in last year’s report, universities did see an overall decrease in carbon emissions to 1,828,394 tCO2e for 2015.

The Brite Green report found that if higher education institutions continue along historical emission reductions, 71% of universities will fail to meet emissions targets, with only 37 projected to meet or exceed 2020 carbon reduction targets.

Despite reducing emissions by 10% against a 2005 baseline, the report notes that universities are only on course to achieve a 15% reduction by 2020, well short of the targeted 43% goal.

Brite Green’s managing partner Darren Chadwick said: “A lot of great work has been done in the sector to tackle carbon emissions but progress to date highlights the need for better national collaboration.

“We have published a good practice guide this year to showcase the best practice at the institution level, but there is a real need for better policy and low carbon infrastructure at the national level to help achieve our carbon reduction targets."

University performances

Despite overall shortcomings, a number of universities are making substantial progress towards achieving individual 2020 goals – with some far exceeding their projections. The top three universities with the biggest decrease in emissions since 2005 are the School of Oriental and African Studies, London Metropolitan University and the University of Cumbria – each achieving more than 50% decrease in emissions.

However, there exists a large divide between the top and bottom performers. Out of the Russel Group Universities (which represent 50% of overall UK university emissions), the University of Birmingham achieved a 24% decrease in emissions whilst King’s College London saw a substantial 21% increase in carbon emissions since 2005. The largest overall increase in emissions came from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which has seen a 133% increase.

The report also details the change in emissions in relation to overall income. In this area, the Royal Agricultural University, Aston University and the University of Reading lead the pack with 59-61% reductions since 2008. Only the bottom three universities of the 120 analysed for this figure saw and increase.

In order to accelerate emissions reductions, the Brite Green report recommends four key steps to help universities improve overall carbon management. The report calls on universities to undergo a robust reviewing process of current performance to realise the need for improvement. Identifying areas for improvement would also lead to accelerated reductions during this progress.

The final two recommendations urge universities to converse and benchmark against peers in order to promote best practice, while also upgrading management strategies to integrate sustainability initiatives.

Peer performance

A number of universities have turned to green initiatives recently, investing in a variety of different sustainability measures to help mitigate overall carbon emissions and minimise energy usage.

In an exclusive feature for edie Aston University’s (which achieved a 59% decrease in emissions from 2008 to 2014-15) environment and sustainability manager Andrew Bryers detailed how behaviour change had united staff and students to tackle sustainability issues and implement energy efficiency measures.

Oxford Brookes recently became one of the first universities to utilise a demand response solution to help reduce energy usage throughout its student accommodation as part of Open Energi’s work to improve energy efficiency measures within higher education institutions. The company’s work has also been deployed at the University of Lancashire and UEA.

Elsewhere, the University of Surrey has received a new €762,000 grant from the European Union to conduct research into the development of smart cities and the environmental impact of a cleaner aeronautics industry.

Earlier this week, edie visited London Metropolitan University to discuss the university’s low-carbon commitment, which has seen them rank second in the Brite Green report. The interview is available on the podcast below.

Alex Baldwin & Matt Mace


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