The English higher education sector is further from achieving its 2020 emissions reduction target than it was last year, a report has found.
The University Carbon Progress Report – England, published by sustainability consultancy Brite Green, finds that absolute carbon emissions for the higher education sector increased for the first time since 2010, rising by more than 14,500 tonnes year-on-year.
According to the report’s forecasts, higher education institutions will achieve only a 12 per cent reduction in absolute carbon emissions by 2020. As part of commitments detailed in the Climate Change Act 2008, the Higher Education Funding Council for England set a 43 per cent reduction target for the sector.
Of the 127 English universities analysed, only three are projected to be on track to meet their carbon reduction targets, while 28 institutions could exceed their targets.
“There is a clear tension between carbon performance and commercial growth, and growth is winning out as policy is currently failing to ensure accountability for performance against targets and provide effective market and policy signals,” Darren Chadwick, managing partner at Brite Green, told Times Higher Education. “The very institutions who are providing the evidence of climate change should be the loudest proponents of effective policy and investment in low carbon technology.”
London Metropolitan University was the sector leader in reduction, having overseen a decrease in absolute emissions of more than 51 per cent between 2005 and 2013-14. Rachel Ward, sustainability manager at London Met, said the achievement was the result of four years’ hard work by “every part of the university”.
“We’re immensely proud of our efforts to reduce the university’s emissions,” she said. “We’re not complacent, however, and have some big plans for our future.
“This year we’re utilising renewable energy for ourselves for the first time by installing solar panels on our Science Centre, reviewing lighting across the institution, and managing a project to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings.”
Iain Patton, chief executive of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, said Brite Green’s findings outlined the “dilemma” the sector faces in meeting carbon reduction targets while driving commercial growth.
“An independent light being shone on us may be uncomfortable but it’s vital,” he said. “It’s time to look again at investing in carbon reduction, and universities should review their carbon management plans to ensure they are doing all they can to reduce their impacts.”