The English higher education sector falls further behind its carbon reduction target



The Higher Education sector in England is further away from achieving its 2020 emissions reduction target compared to last year. The sector target of 43 per cent was set to help meet the UK’s carbon reduction commitment set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

Although many Universities have delivered wide-ranging efficiency programmes, commercial growth in the sector has limited the absolute reductions in emissions achieved, mirroring the challenges faced by the economy as a whole to tackle climate change.

The performance of the sector continues to pose important questions about the effectiveness of existing policy mechanisms to achieve the institution and HEFCE set targets, as well as the legally binding long-term objective of 80 per cent reduction by 2050 for the UK as a whole.

The most recent data show that the projected emission reductions for 2020 have slumped to only 12 per cent, far behind the sector target of 43 per cent. The year on year increase in 2013/14 means that the sector has only reduced emissions by 7 per cent from the 2005 baseline with more than 75 per cent of universities set to miss their own 2020 targets.

The majority of universities have however improved efficiency significantly, both in relation to revenue and floor space. Since the implementation of carbon management plans, institutions have incorporated effective carbon and energy use reduction programmes, as well as behavioural change initiatives.

In our second University Carbon Progress Report, Brite Green analysed publically available data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and HEFCE. To improve data quality, we also undertook a sector consultation and incorporated revisions into the data set. Two new emissions intensity tables are included, where we analyse absolute emissions in relation to floor space and income.

Key findings reveal that unless universities make a step change in carbon reductions, they will fail to meet both the collective university self-set carbon reduction target as well as HEFCE’s sector target, despite almost a quarter of institutions having reduced their emissions targets.

The report also finds that there is a large gap between top and bottom performers across all carbon metrics. Of the 127 institutions analysed, only 31 are on track to meet or exceed their 2020 carbon reduction targets. The top ten performers led by London Metropolitan University have all achieved absolute emission reductions of more than 40 per cent from the 2005 baseline. Conversely, the bottom performers continue to move further away from their targets compared to last year.

“The university sector faces the same defining sustainability challenge as our economy at large: how to achieve meaningful carbon reductions in absolute terms whilst growing? For the higher education sector, significant commercial growth is a key driver of increased carbon emissions” notes Darren Chadwick, Managing Partner at Brite Green. “The findings of our second report continue to stress the need for institutions to take a strategic approach to managing their carbon plans and address all material risks, drivers and opportunities. Institutional carbon strategies should be integrated into the commercial strategies with aligned and achievable reduction targets.”

Climate change is likely to be the defining challenge of the 21st century. Universities have been pivotal in developing not only the underlying climate science but also many of the solutions needed to address its consequences. It is important that they continue to take a leadership role in carbon management and innovative abatement technologies, and lobby for effective government policy in the UK and on the international stage.

Click here to request a copy of the report.


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