Most UK universities failing to hit carbon reduction targets

The majority of UK universities have failed to meet their carbon reduction targets, figures reveal.

The sector had a goal to reduce emissions directly controlled by institutions by 43% between 2005-06 and 2020-21.

However, 59% did not meet this target, according to the estates management record at the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This data has been used by the People and Planet University League to rank universities’ efforts to reduce carbon.

This year, Cardiff Metropolitan University topped the league table for the first time with a 65% decrease in emissions over the 15-year timeframe.

Oxbridge may top other league tables but it is slipping down the carbon rankings. The University of Oxford has fallen 16 places to 40th, while Cambridge fell two places to 86th.

Russell Group universities have shown improvement with two – the University of Exeter and University College London – in the top 10 and, in general, the group has scored higher than last year.

Jack Ruane, the university league manager at People and Planet, said: “It is disappointing to see that 59% of UK universities have failed to achieve the carbon reduction target. 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.”

Divestment from fossil fuels remains a tricky proposition for higher education institutions and only 33% of universities (50 of 153) have a commitment to fully screen out all fossil fuel investments written into a valid policy. A further 10 universities have partial commitments.

Only 7% (11) have made a commitment in policy to directly reinvest in community renewable energy and/or renewable energy projects on campus. Only 3% of the sector (four) have committed to cutting recruitment ties to the fossil fuel and mining industries.

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Laura Clayson, the climate justice campaigns manager at People and Planet, said: “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.

“Severing investment ties with the fossil fuel industry is an important first step for universities to act upon their responsibility to communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and fossil fuel extraction impacts. We hope to see a sharp increase in policy exclusions in next year’s league in line with this.”

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