The 48 per cent solution

February 11, 2010

It is misleading to suggest that the Higher Education Funding Council for England has bowed to pressure to alleviate CO2 reduction ("Hefce reduces carbon targets after protests", 28 January). It has necessarily passed on the full impact of the Climate Change Act 2008: an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 against a 1990 baseline.

The 2020 interim target is more pressing. The Act specifies a 26 per cent reduction by 2020 against the baseline, and this has been increased to 34 per cent, but we use significantly more energy today than in 1990. It is more useful to consider the 2005 (or more recent) figures. A realistic target is a 48 per cent cut from a 2005 figure by 2020 - a reduction of more than 4 per cent a year. A business-as-usual figure is 4 per cent growth a year.

To put this in context, the average full-time equivalent (FTE) staff and student consumes 4MWh/y (Higher Education Statistics Agency Estates Management Statistics data, 2007-08), costing about £200 per FTE a year. Keele University has some work to do (4.6MWh/y/FTE); Cranfield University (12.2MWh/y/FTE, and it is not the worst) must turn off some lights. The first 10 per cent will be easy: what will universities do after that?

The sector needs to take some big decisions to meet these targets, such as less heating in fewer buildings, less travel and the use of renewables. These are massive challenges.

Andrew Starr, Director, Centre for Sustainable Communities, University of Hertfordshire.

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