Kew Gardens eyes net-positive climate impact by 2030

The Science-Based Targets Initiative has verified the ambition in line with 1.5C

The organisation is best known for Kew Gardens in London but also manages Wakehurst, Sussex, and the Kew Madagascar Conversation Centre. The new climate ambition covers all of these facilities.

Under the new strategy, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew will work to reduce emissions directly in line with a science-based pathway. There is a target to reduce ‘core’ emissions by 46.2% by 2030, against a 2019-20 baseline. Sources included in ‘core’ emissions are direct (Scope 1), power-related (Scope 2), emissions from business travel, employee commuting, investments, waste and water and fuels. A target for non-core or ‘visitor-related emissions is currently under development.

Activities planned to reduce emissions include increasing on-site renewable electricity generation, upgrading vehicles to electric, installing heat pumps, fitting energy-efficient lighting and phasing out single-use plastics from food and drinks outlets.

Remaining emissions will then be addressed through a combination of insetting at gardens and their communities, and external offsetting. On insetting, The Gardens are currently researching the carbon sequestration capacities of their landscapes and whether this is being fulfilled at present. Where gaps exist, targeted changes can be made, such as the addition of new plants or changes to irrigation.

On offsetting, The Gardens’ flagship sustainability strategy states: “Carbon offsetting must never be used as an alternative to preventing avoidable emissions. But that does not make offsetting a ‘last resort’, to be delayed as long as possible. We will invest in certified offsets in the form of high-quality nature-based carbon sinks to more-than-balance residual emissions from all sources by 2030, if not sooner. Certain categories of emissions, such as flights, will be offset by 2025, if not sooner.

“We will develop a carbon offsetting policy identifying our selection of certified offsets. We will set rigorous requirements for the offsets we select. We will invest in a portfolio of nature-based offsets which offer valuable co-benefits in addition to long-term carbon sequestration, and we will be completely transparent about the offsets we select.”

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has had its strategy approved by the UN-backed ‘Race to Zero’ campaign. This UNFCCC campaign now represents commitments of more than 2,360 end-user businesses and 163 investors. It was recently revealed that one-third of FTSE100 firms are now signed up. Membership requires long-term net-zero targets backed up with “science-based, credible” interim goals and short-term pledges on decarbonising power and transport.

Broader approach

Beyond the specifics of the new climate positivity target, the sustainability report outlines three key “pathways” for delivering broader progress in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are namely action, expertise and advice.

‘Action’ concerns making changes to sites, activities and processes. But ‘expertise’ related to collaboration with other organisations, and ‘voice’ to the organisation’s ability to educate and inform the general public and other key stakeholders.

“Delivering ambition on this scale requires a huge collaborative effort from the horticulture and scientific sectors, as well as the heritage and estates sectors, together with the wider public,” The Gardens said in a statement.

Initiatives set to launch on the public engagement piece include a new display showing, in real time, the amount of solar energy self-generated at the gardens. Kew will also make changes to its menu and catering facilities, working to encourage behaviour change such as low-carbon, plant-based menu choices and reusable cups. Similar behaviour change initiatives will be targeted at the ways in which people travel to Kew’s sites.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s head of sustainability Rachel Purdon summarised:  “The environmental emergency requires more rapid and significant changes to the way we do things at Kew, at home, and across society; we cannot do this alone. 

“We want everyone to share the urgency and the commitment to change that underpins our ambitious new strategy.  Cross-sector partnerships and collaborations are vital, as is the engagement and action of our supporters and visitors in bringing about the change we desperately need to see to save our planet.”

Sarah George

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