UK universities fail to reach emissions targets

New results have found that three quarters of British universities are set to miss their carbon reduction targets for 2020.

Additionally, teams leading the implementation of green initiatives are being cut and sustainability plans are not being renewed, the 2016 People & Planet University League has found. It is the fourth year running that the league has reported a reduction in the number of universities on course to their legally binding 43 percent emissions reduction target from 2005 levels.

The People and Planet University League ranks institutions on their environmental and ethical performance, based on publicly available information. It assesses a range of fields, such as the commitment of senior management to green goals, the employment of dedicated sustainability staff and the reduction of fossil fuel spending. It also looks at ethical factors, such as paying workers the living wage and their investment in projects that do not pollute the wider community.

UEA came in at a mediocre 48th place, achieving a 2:1 for its efforts. The university scored well in such areas as sustainability policy and human resources for green initiatives but fell down in such fields as workers’ rights and staff and student engagement.

Most worryingly, UEA achieved 0 percent in carbon reduction, water reduction and ethical investment in 2016. The league also reports UEA has no commitment to divestment from fossil fuels. This is extremely disappointing news for a university which is a world leader in environmental research and recently opened the UK’s greenest building, the Enterprise Centre.

The University of Essex is ranked 53 places below UEA, in 101st, and was given a 2:2 status. However, academic reputation is not correlated with progress on sustainability and ethical issues- Oxford and Cambridge were both awarded 2:1s and ranked 46th and 57th respectively.

Only 30 out of the 150 institutions are on track to achieve their green goals and have been awarded ‘first class’ status by the league. Nottingham Trent University, which opened its first carbon negative building, the Pavilion, claimed first place, with Brighton following in second. 15 universities received a ‘failed’ status, including Norwich University of the Arts, which is ranked at 140th.

It is believed a lack of government support for public sector sustainability is at fault for the failure of energy-saving schemes.

According to People & Planet, a student campaigning network, there was an abundance of emissions reduction initiatives aided by higher education funding prior to the election of the coalition and the Conservative governments.

It is a different picture today. “The landscape looks bereft of any significant support or incentive for sustainable development in universities in England”, says the organisation.

“We can now see the concerning impact of the current government’s short-termism with regard to energy and climate policy.”


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March 2021
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