University funding chiefs have bowed to pressure to set less ambitious targets for carbon reduction in the sector.
Universities face financial penalties if they fail to make significant cuts to their carbon emissions, following the Higher Education Funding Council for England's commitment to major reduction targets.
The Government's grant letter to Hefce in January 2009 confirmed that future capital funds would be linked to universities' performance in slashing their emissions.
The funding council's first major policy document on the issue, published on 28 January, states that institutions will be expected to cut their carbon output by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050, based on 1990 levels. These targets are in line with the Government's plans for the UK as a whole.
However, the targets are significantly lower than those mooted in Hefce's initial consultation, published in July last year, which proposed that universities aim for a carbon-reduction target of 50 per cent by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2050.
It recommended either a mid-term target of a 25 per cent cut by 2015, or two interim milestones in 2012 and 2017.
The initial consultation was met with criticism by universities, which claimed the targets were unrealistic.
Speaking at the time, Martin Wiles, head of sustainability at the University of Bristol, said: "For a lot of universities this is starting to move into the realm of changing what we do as an institution rather than just working more efficiently. We're not going to get to these figures by having low-energy light bulbs."
A report compiled by Hefce after the consultation process highlighted the resistance within the sector to the ambitious proposals.
"Respondents commented that the technology did not currently exist to enable a 100 per cent reduction to be achieved; but that this could be reviewed again as technology progressed," it said.
Universities will now be expected to review their performance against the new targets. Hefce has produced guidance for institutions to help them plan their progress.