Net-Zero Emissions: The role of Higher and Further Education

By Josh Dominguez

Following a series of extraordinary events in the last 12 months, such as the declaration of climate emergencies, the Extinction Rebellion, climate Youth Strikes, a spate of unsettling climate change reports, and the resultant “Green Wave” that swept the European elections, climate change has firmly been placed on everyone’s radar.

On 2 May, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its comprehensive report ‘Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’, advising the UK government to set a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. A target widely held as both necessary and feasible, which will prove pivotal in the UK’s efforts to fight climate change. In a previous blog we summarised the key findings and implications of the report.

Today the government is set to pass the net zero emissions target into law in a landmark act that will make the UK the first G7 member state to legislate for net zero.

The UK is however forecast to miss two existing carbon targets in 2025 and 2030. This, coupled with the current global track of exceeding 3°C warming, means the challenge of reducing carbon emissions still lies ahead.

In this blog, we examine the central role higher and further education must play if the UK is to consistently realise this target. Universities have been vocal in support of the net zero target and are in a unique position, with widespread influence over the young demographic, to lead the transition.

Numerous research projects, technical annexes and advisory groups underpinned the Net Zero report. Highlighting the influence higher education research has, the report’s global modelling analysis – which detailed how the UK can accelerate emissions reductions globally – was fed by the University College London (UCL) Energy Institute.

How can Higher Education support in the fight against climate change?

  • Educate, upskill and inspire young people as well as existing and future leaders working towards sustainability and impacting climate change.
  • Universities must themselves strive ambitiously by setting targets and competing in rankings such as the Times Higher Education (THE) impact rankings.
  • To back change makers and institutions and facilitate a learning environment that encourages and inspires young minds to be fearless in campaigning for climate action.
  • Back the EAUC by heeding its suggestions towards a sustainable future:
    1. Declare a climate emergency
    2. Pledge a net zero emission target and implement a coherent strategy to achieve large campus emissions reductions.For example – the UCL is crowdsourcing a Net Zero target by 2036:
      a) Carbon emissions have been reduced by 47% since 2010 – surpassing a 43% target almost two years early.
      b) An 80% reduction goal has also been lined up for 2050.
      c) The University also sources 100% of its energy needs from renewables.
    3. Undertake a climate change risk analysis at your institution and create an action plan
    4. Divest from fossil fuels – 80 UK institutions have committed.
    5. Create a cross departmental steering group within your institution to engage staff, academics and students to form real actions and change.
  • Align your targets with climate science:
    Although universities are currently unable to commit to the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi), Carbon Credentials recommends universities consider following the SBTi’s robust methodology towards reducing emissions, especially given challenges around calculating scope 3 emissions.

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