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THE WINNERS AND LOSERS: UK UNIVERSITIES VARY IN COMMITMENTS TO REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

Dom Fou – Image Credit

People & Planet is the UK’s largest student network, campaigning on human rights, global poverty, and the environment. Annually, the network compiles and releases University League, the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities focussing on sustainability and transparency.1 Universities are ranked against a variety of environmental sustainability metrics, using a combination of public information, and data from Estates Management Record (EMR) and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)  covering a range of topics such as environmental policy and carbon management. University League has been running for 12 years and has driven impressive improvements in environmental management and monitoring.2

This year’s league shows the majority of the UK higher education sector has dragged its feet in reaching carbon reduction targets, with 59% of universities failing to meet the sector-wide target of reducing carbon emissions directly controlled by the university by 43% between 2005/6 and 2020/21.3

Jack Ruane, University League Manager at People & Planet commented that such a high percentage is inadequate: 

‘This highlights the importance of holding the sector accountable via short-term assessments of actual reductions in carbon emissions, rather than celebrating net zero target-setting, which are often vague on how offsetting will be achieved.’4 

Cardiff Metropolitan University Achieves First Place

Cardiff Metropolitan University has topped the ranking of the University League with 82.3%, leaping from 68th position in 2019. This commendable advancement can be attributed to the university’s exceptional performance, reducing 65% of controlled carbon emissions in the last 15 years, and becoming the first UK university to divest from the border industry.5

Other universities in the top five also met or exceeded this target; the University of Bedfordshire, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Reading, and the University of the Arts London (UAL).6

Cardiff Met’s sustainability strategy encompasses strategic approaches to organising, empowering, and delivering sustainability, aiming to achieve ‘a culture of sustainability embedded in our thinking and behaviours.’7 

The university has undertaken several initiatives, including renewable installations across its campus, such as solar panels, solar thermal panels, and air source heat pumps. Further, it organises eco-friendly initiatives, reuses furniture and office equipment, donates to local schools and charities, and arranges community litter picks and the collection for single-use coffee cups.8 Cardiff Met has also recently been ranked gold tier university in Uswitch’s Green Universities Report 2022, which assesses UK universities’ commitment to sustainability through green initiatives and renewable energy.9

On October 27, in a landmark decision for the higher education sector, Coventry University became the 100th university to announce the exclusion of fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios. While universities vary in their levels of commitment, this covers over £15bn of wealth from their endowment funds, which are part of a university’s managed investments.10 However, only 1/3 of universities have committed to fully exclude fossil fuel investments written into institutional policy.11 

Laura Clayson, Campaigns Manager for Climate Justice has expressed concerns over the transparency of universities in this matter, stating,

‘Despite 100 UK universities having now publicly announced the exclusion of fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios, just 60 have enshrined this commitment in a valid policy document. Concerningly, this is a significant drop from 76 last year. This – coupled with a sector where only 28% of universities publicly list their investment holdings – displays the importance of the People & Planet University League as an annual accountability mechanism.’12

Useful Links:

Open Democracy, 19 October 2022. Opinion: It’s great that universities are pulling out of the border industry at last. Available at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/cardiff-metropolitan-university-divest-border-industry/ [accessed 12/12/22]

Universities UK, 10 November 2022. Insights and Analysis, Climate crisis: what progress have universities made? Available at https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/latest/insights-and-analysis/climate-crisis-what-progress-have [accessed 12/12/22]

 References:

1.  People and Planet, 2022. University League 2022/23: How Sustainable is your University? Available at https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league [accessed 12/12/22]

2.  People and Planet, 2022. University League 2022/23: How Sustainable is your University? 

3.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria. Available at https://peopleandplanet.org/blog/2022-12-06/press-release-cardiff-metropolitan-university-tops-ranking-153-uk-universities [accessed 12/12/22]

4.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria. 

5.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria

6.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria

7.  Cardiff Metropolitan University, September 2020. Sustainability Strategy. Available at https://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/about/sustainability/Documents/Section%201/Sustainability%20Strategy%20v2.pdf [accessed 12/12/22]

8.  Cardiff Metropolitan University, 6 December 2022. Cardiff Met is number one university in the UK for sustainability. Available at https://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/news/Pages/Cardiff-Met-is-number-one-university-in-the-UK-for-sustainability.aspx [accessed 12/12/22]

9.  Uswitch, 10 November 2022. Green Universities 2022 Results. Available at https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/green-energy/green-universities/ [accessed 12/12/22]

10.  People and Planet, 2022. Universities omitted to Pursuing Fossil Fuel Divestment. Available at https://peopleandplanet.org/fossil-free-victories [accessed 12/12/22]

11.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria

12.  People and Planet, 6 December 2022. Press Release: Cardiff Metropolitan University Tops Ranking of 153 UK Universities by Sustainability & Ethics Criteria

Olivia Trimborn – Author

14/12/2022

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