UK universities cut carbon emissions despite using more energy

Calls made for campuses to do more to help tackle climate change

May 10, 2019
carbon emissions divestment
Source: iStock

Carbon emissions from UK higher education providers have fallen despite an increase in their combined energy consumption, according to new data.

Campuses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland consumed 6.7 terawatt hours of energy in 2017-18, compared with 6.5 terawatt hours in 2016-17.

Carbon dioxide emissions fell from 1.7 million tonnes to 1.6 million tonnes over the same period, according to figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Leading the way for energy consumption is the University of Cambridge, with more than 275 million kilowatt hours of energy, followed by the University of Edinburgh, with more than 255 million.

Edinburgh and Cambridge also top the table for carbon emissions, with more than 65 million kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent each.

Iain Patton, chief executive of EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, was “pleased to see carbon emissions falling” in the higher education sector.

“This is an agenda that desperately needs to be tackled, and it is good that universities are taking this seriously. As ever, though, more can and should be done,” he said.

Cheltenham-based EAUC has declared a “climate emergency” and is encouraging institutions to commit to reaching net zero emissions as soon as possible.

“We hope to see a far bigger drop in carbon emissions in the next set of data,” added Mr Patton.

“We are disappointed to see the rise in energy consumption in the HE sector, but we are keen to explore the reasons behind this with our membership and support them to make changes to rectify this situation.”

Many institutions have taken steps to shrink their energy consumption in diverse and innovative ways, he added.

Climate strike action involving students has taken place across the world this year.

The data should be a “wake-up call to vice-chancellors who think the HE sector is doing enough to help combat climate change”, said Mr Patton.

“There is much more to do, and as educators of the next generation of change makers, and occupiers of large geographical spaces, university leaders need to show young people they are willing to fight to ensure their future is not marred by their inaction.”

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