Report delivers definitive net zero strategy for education sector

A roadmap charting the UK education sector’s journey to a net zero future has been launched with a plea by the authors to make the recommendations mandatory.

The Royal Anniversary Trust’s “Accelerating towards Net Zero” report provides the first-ever profile of the UK higher and further education sector’s carbon footprint.

The report has been described as “an ambitious roadmap for carbon reduction in the tertiary education sector”. It offers a robust profile of the tertiary education sector’s carbon footprint using detailed modelling which highlights target areas for emissions reporting and reduction.

It also proposes a new standardised carbon reporting framework designed exclusively for the sector which will enable all higher education (HE) and Further education (FE) institutions to measure, report and manage carbon emissions.

The year-long research project delivers 14 clear recommendations to Government and priorities for the sector that will accelerate progress towards Net Zero.

Kristina Murrin, CEO of The Royal Anniversary Trust added: “Our ambition was to bring together the extraordinary winners of the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes to collectively tackle a tough shared challenge. The resulting report sets out a clear action plan for the tertiary education sector to accelerate progress to Net Zero, with recommendations for institutions and government. We are enormously proud of the proposed carbon reporting Framework – if adopted sector-wide, this will allow for consistent, transparent, and data-led decision making.”

The report said there was a key role for the educational system to play in the UK’s net zero ambitions.

“The Challenge acknowledges that the tertiary education sector has a key role to play in responding to the global climate emergency,” The report stated. “It is unique in its leadership on climate change and ability to affect widespread change through education, research, and innovation. It can also equip vast parts of our society with the knowledge and behaviours needed to deliver a lower carbon economy and world. Therefore, the substantial investment needed by the sector provides an immense opportunity for the UK’s transition to a low-carbon future.”

To support these aims, we propose a set of guiding principles on Net Zero emissions and have identified three Action Pathways where we suggest the sector should focus efforts to reduce emissions the report added. These are across Built Environment, Travel and Transport, and Sustainable Supply Chain, which make up 80% of the sector’s overall carbon footprint. We have highlighted Finance and Investment, and Internal Skills and Resources, as two cross-cutting Enablers to help accelerate progress towards Net Zero.

“Although the Reporting Framework is not currently mandatory, we believe that its adoption by the sector would go a long way towards helping institutions understand the full scope of their emissions, and where to focus action to reduce them,” The report explained. “Here, we set out a clear and long-term sector-based pathway towards Net Zero emissions to enable a strong response from the government and the sector.

“Our recommendations and priorities represent the Challenge’s collective ambition to promote a more sustainable, secure, and resilient sector for all. We hope that the government listens to these recommendations, and that they are embraced and acted upon. We also endeavour for this report to become a valuable resource for the sector and all educational institutions to enhance and enable their work.”

Professor Jaime Toney, of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions and the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, from the University of Glasgow and Dr Stewart Miller, the University’s sustainability manager, played roles in the preparation of the report.

Toney said: “We’re proud to have been a part of putting together this important report, which highlights to the UK Government what is needed for HE and FE sector to accelerate its contribution to Net Zero. It also provides an invaluable resource to accelerate a sector-wide approach.”