6 in 10 UK universities failing to cut carbon emissions in line with sector-wide commitment

Pictured: The University of York, one of 90 universities that did not meet the sector-wide carbon target

Published earlier this week, the latest People & Planet University League ranks universities against an array of environmental sustainability metrics. Topics covered include the procurement of clean energy, sustainable diets, waste management, water management and governance. There are also some social sustainability metrics, including workers’ rights, the employment of sustainability teams and ethical investing.

On carbon reduction, People & Planet assessed whether each university was disclosing adequate carbon data and, if so, whether it was reducing emissions in line with the UK higher education sector’s shared goal. The goal, set against a 2005-6 academic year baseline, was to reduce Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions by 43% by the 2020-21 academic year. The goal was set through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Universities UK (UUK), and Guild Higher Education (Guild HE).

The majority (59%) of the universities assessed by  People & Planet failed to meet this target. A small handful exceeded the goal, including Cardiff Metropolitan University, which topped the league table overall. It achieved a 65% reduction in its controlled emissions within the 15-year target timeline.

Rounding out the overall top five are four more universities that met or exceeded the carbon target: the University of Bedfordshire, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Reading and the University of the Arts London (UAL). The top-ranked university in Scotland was Edinburgh Napier and the leader for Northern Ireland was Ulster University.

People & Planet’s University League manager Jack Ruane said poor performance on carbon across the board  “highlights the importance of holding the sector accountable via short-term assessments of actual reductions in carbon emissions, rather than celebrating net zero target-setting, which are often vague on how offsetting will be achieved”. At present, higher education providers cannot have emissions targets verified by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

Aside from strong progress to cut carbon, Cardiff Met scored highly in the ethical investment category. In what is believed to be a first from a UK university, it has pledged never to invest in companies complicit in violence against migrants. It also bagged top marks for employing a strong sustainability team, implementing sustainable food policies and embedding environmental sustainability into the courses and modules on offer.

At the other end of the table, Stanmills University College scored the lowest overall. Also in the bottom five were the University College of Osteopathy, Ravensbourne University London, the University of Sunderland and the Royal Academy of Music. 33 universities were classed as having a ‘failing’ grade overall.

You can access the full league table here.

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