UK universities sign up to climate commitments ahead of COP26

UUK says universities need ‘stable funding’ to continue to ‘provide the world’ with science and skills ‘to safeguard the future of the planet’

October 20, 2021

Ahead of the crucial COP26 summit, 140 UK universities have signed up to commitments including supporting government plans to cut emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, and making public information on their actions to address climate change through teaching or research.

Universities UK made the announcement ahead of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow starting on 31 October.

The UUK commitment covers scope 1 emissions (direct emissions by an organisation), scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy) and scope 3 (emissions from goods and services purchased, or staff travel).

The commitment says universities will “set targets for scope 1 and 2 emission reductions which support the government’s plans for reducing emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels and achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest (or devolved government equivalents)”.

Universities have also committed to “set a target for scope 3 emission reductions and other environmental targets beyond emissions, or commit to a programme of work to set targets as soon as possible”.

And universities will “ensure that these targets are visible on their websites, alongside information on how the university is addressing the climate emergency through their teaching, research, leadership, local contributions and campus responsibilities (for example, through reference to existing sustainability plans or strategies, or the development of one)”.

Universities will “set out how progress against these targets will be reported in a transparent, consistent and understandable way, and collectively work with official statistics providers to improve data collection”.

They will also sign the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Accord “or embed elements of SDG Accord reporting into their existing reporting”.

In addition, a number of universities are introducing COP26 scholarships to ensure that the brightest and best talent can develop into the climate leaders of tomorrow.

Judith Petts, vice-chancellor of the University of Plymouth and chair of the UUK climate task and finish group, said: “The commitments universities are making are far more than simply touting our eco-credentials.

“But we need the government to support sustainable funding for the sector rather than further cuts, and specifically we hope that they will recognise the opportunities of the COP26 scholarships. With stable funding, UK universities will continue to pioneer approaches and provide the world with the science, skills and talent needed to safeguard the future of the planet.”

Meanwhile, more than 80 universities and research institutes from across the UK have joined together to showcase their research addressing climate change during COP26, an event being hosted online and in Glasgow by the University of Strathclyde.

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