University of Exeter moves net-zero target forward to 2030

The University of Exeter has brought forward a target to reaching net-zero to 2030, as part of an ambitious new strategy that includes measures to reduce Scope 3 emissions.

University of Exeter moves net-zero target forward to 2030

In 2020

The University of Exeter declared an environment and climate emergency in 2019, which led to the creation of a net-zero emissions target for 2040 a year later. However, following discussions with staff and students, this target has been moved forward a decade to 2030.

The new target will cover all three scopes, with Scope 3 emissions accounting for 72% of the university’s carbon footprint. Reaching net-zero will require the use of offsets for unavoidable emissions, the university notes, with projects that “contribute to carbon sequestration as well as improving other areas of natural capital” and social wellbeing to be prioritised.

“We want to lead the higher education sector in the drive to net zero,” said Exeter’s Provost Professor Janice Kay, co-chair of the University’s Environment and Climate Emergency Board.

“By accelerating our targets to net-zero across Scopes 1, 2 and 3 by 2030, we place ourselves amongst a handful of institutions with truly ambitious targets. Our sector leadership will be defined by the delivery of these targets.”

The original net-zero target was underpinned by shorter-term goals with 2025 deadlines. These include halving long-haul air travel and reducing the amount of paper and plastic sourced by the University by half.

In 2020, the University launched sustainable behaviour change scheme Green Rewards for its staff and students, as part of the net-zero goal.

Operated by JUMP, the scheme uses an app and other digital communications channels to encourage participants to engage in behaviours that reduce their waste, energy and carbon footprints while improving their health and mental wellbeing.

University challenge

Late last year, analysis of sustainability at 154 of the UK’s universities has found that 54% are not on track to meet the near-term climate target set for the higher education sector.

According to People and Planet, 46% of UK universities are on track to meet the sector-wide emissions reduction target set by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), up from around one-third in 2019. The target was originally deadlined at 2020 but the deadline was pushed to 2022 due to Covid-19. It entails reducing operational emissions by 30% against a 2018 baseline.

This leaves more than half (54%) of universities off-track. People and Planet believes the proportion may actually be greater, as some locations will have seen significant reductions in emissions due to a lack of activity on campus during Covid-19. Moreover, HESA’s next carbon targets are likely to be more ambitious. The organisation has stated that universities should strive to halve emissions by 2030, in contribution to the national net-zero transition.

Matt Mace

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