Cambridge becomes first university to set 1.5C science-based targets

The University of Cambridge has become the first higher education institution in the world to set  science-based targets in line with the Paris Agreement's more ambitious 1.5C trajectory.

The commitments cover the University's entire estate of 20+ facilities across the Cambridge city-region

The commitments cover the University's entire estate of 20+ facilities across the Cambridge city-region

Under the new targets, the University has committed to reduce its Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (energy-related) carbon footprint by 75% by 2030, against a 2030 baseline.

It has also pledged to bring its Scope 2 carbon emissions down to zero by 2048. 

These commitments will cover the entirety of the University of Cambridge’s operational estate and will see the facility’s environment, energy and estates teams assess how best to reduce the amount of gas used for space and water heating and to implement better energy efficiency measures. A feasibility study around hosting an on-site solar farm will also be carried out.

Additionally, the University is exploring how to provide its departments with better data on their own emissions and energy use, so they can develop tailored solutions to their specific challenges.

While the University’s Scope 3 (indirect) emissions are currently exempt from its science-based targets, the facility has pledged to develop approved targets for this part of its emissions within the next three years. Key focus areas for this target will be business travel, supply chain emissions and student travel.

“As a world-leading university, we need to not only take responsibility for our own carbon emissions, but also to demonstrate to others what is achievable,” The University of Cambridge’s director of information services Ian Leslie said.

“By setting an ambitious target for carbon reduction and aiming to reach it a decade early, we hope to provide opportunities for others to learn from our approach, including where we are successful and areas that are found to be challenging.”

Leslie is notably a senior adviser to the University’s vice-chancellor, with special responsibility for environmental sustainability. He additionally acts as a non-executive director at Cambridge Innovation Capital, an investor body focused on advancing businesses in the life sciences and technology sectors.

Science-based surge

In the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark global warming report last autumn, the terms “1.5C” and “net-zero” have become buzzwords among the business community.

Companies such as Pukka Herbs, the Co-op, Burberry and Carbon Credentials have set 1.5C targets since the report’s publication, and many more are expected to join this exclusive group, after the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi( announced that it would place a renewed focus on assisting businesses in setting emissions reduction goals aligned with 1.5C.

The body published an update to its target validation criteria in April, in a bid to encourage more businesses to set ambitious carbon reduction aims in line with a 1.5C pathway. A key change is that a “well-below 2C” pathway will become a minimum requirement, up from the current 2C criteria. 

Nonetheless, sustainability professionals have begun to voice concerns that the process for gaining SBTi approval is too lengthy to appease the climate concerns of their customers and investors. Current rules state that, within 24 months of committing to set approved science-based targets, they must submit their work to the SBTi. 

Sarah George



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