Best performance to date unlikely to help English universities hit carbon goals

English universities have achieved their best year-on-year reduction in carbon emissions to date, although an annual 7% reduction is unlikely to put the sector on track to meet a 2020 carbon reduction target.

Only 52 of the 127 institutions analysed look set to meet or exceed their 2020 carbon targets

Only 52 of the 127 institutions analysed look set to meet or exceed their 2020 carbon targets

The latest University Carbon Progress report from Brite Green used publicly available data from higher education agencies to map progress towards a 43% carbon reduction commitment, scheduled for 2020.

The latest report found that sector emissions fell by 7% in 2016. In comparison, English universities had previously reduced emissions by 10% over the last 10 years. However, the report notes that if emissions continue to fall at current rates, the sector will still fall 20% short of the 2020 target.

“Universities across the country are demonstrating the benefits of implementing carbon management programmes, with some delivering incredible reductions” Brite Green’s managing partner Darren Chadwick said.

“Many Universities are behind the curve and there are still some significant challenges for the sector to overcome to achieve their targets. Sustainability is a key strategic issue for Universities and leading institutions recognise that it needs to be managed across all aspects of university life; from teaching and research to investment strategy and estates management”

Brite Green notes that improved performance in the sector in 2016 is the result of better energy management, as well as a reduced carbon content from the country’s electricity grid.

Despite the improved performance, only 52 of the 127 institutions analysed look set to meet or exceed their 2020 carbon targets. The top performing institution was London Metropolitan University, which has achieved a carbon emissions reduction of 57% since 2005.

However, while the top 10 performers have all reached reductions of 40% or more since 2005, the bottom performing institutions are actually moving further aware from the targets compared with last year. Notably, a third of the institution have reduced their emissions reduction targets over the past few years.

The 43% reduction target for 2020 was meant to bring the sector in line with national efforts to reduce emissions, set out under the Climate Change Act 2008, to hit a long-term and legally binding 80% national reduction by 2050.

According to research from student campaign network People & Planet, a lack of Government funding to support sustainability in Britain's higher education establishments is what has led to a to a lack of progress on carbon emission reductions across the sector since 2013.

Earlier this month, select colleges and universities launched ‘The SDG Accord’ – a reflection on the role that educators have in igniting change across people, planet and prosperity. The Accord aims to embed the SDGs across higher education to influence both staff and students.

Compare the performance

The launch of the report coincided with GoCompare Energy’s own university league table for renewable energy use. Analysis from the group found that during the 2015/16 academic year, the University of Lancaster produced the highest amount of clean energy – using a privately-owned wind turbine and a biomass installation to create 8,121,209 kWh.

Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University was ranked first for universities diversifying its energy mix. In total, the university generated enough clean power to fulfil 45% of the institution’s total annual energy demand.

Biomass proved the most popular form of renewable energy amongst universities, accounting for 62% of renewable energy used by the institutions. Solar and wind were equally split at 16% each. When it comes to producing energy onsite, 60% of universities in the UK have solar installations, with a combined capacity of 6,803,700 kWh annually - enough to power 1,800 homes for a year.

Matt Mace


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