‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’ report

23 January 2023      Joni Rhodes, BUFDG Project Manager

As one of the partner group of organisations involved in the production of ‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’, published today by The Royal Anniversary Trust and the EAUC, BUFDG welcomes the report and is happy to recommend it to our members. Subtitled ‘A sector-led proposal for action and co-ordinated thinking’, the publication is supported by the Department for Education, which describes it as a welcome blueprint for innovation across the sector on our journey to Net Zero”. We encourage all UK universities to engage with the report at the most senior level and to use the BUFDG network to contact colleagues at the universities who have been involved in this project. We are pleased that we have been able to join sister PHES organisation AUDE and all of our members in contributing to this work, along with the support of CUBO and HESPA.   

The report’s production is rooted in the Platinum Jubilee Challenge to universities, a vehicle to help the entire tertiary education sector share knowledge and build the skills base needed by organisations to deliver low carbon operations. Fifteen BUFDG member universities are featured within the report. The report has three main objectives: firstly, to share knowledge; secondly to propose a Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework; and thirdly to make policy recommendations to government. Its mission is for UK tertiary education to be “a global leader in accelerating the climate emergency response.” 

As the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan MP, says in her response to the report, the whole of the tertiary education sector, working together, have considerable ability to scale solutions and lead the public sector response to climate change: “The UK’s world-leading tertiary education sector has a vital role to play in our national response to the global climate emergency. The Platinum Jubilee Challenge report ’Accelerating towards Net Zero’ is an inspiring example of institutions from across the UK working together towards a common goal, and I’d like to thank all those who took part for sharing their knowledge and expertise. The proposed reporting framework provides an excellent model for the sector to measure and take action on their emissions. We thank the authors for their recommendations to both the sector and government. These will be carefully considered and we look forward to responding formally in March.” 

An important part of the focus of the report is to make recommendations to government, in a context where the sector can plan, collaborate and share as much as it wishes but the conditions in which those plans are enacted need to be suitable. Among the recommendations to government in the report are the need to extend 0% VAT relief to incentivise the retrofitting of existing buildings; the need to transform the National Grid to remove barriers to the adoption of renewable technologies; and the need for BEIS to incorporate sustainability and carbon modules within its SME growth schemes. 

We are pleased that the Platinum Jubilee Challenge report has recommendations in common Mission Zero, a recent report by former Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore. Amongst many recommendations, he makes the case for universities to play a central role in efforts to limit global warming and deliver economic growth. “The UK must take advantage of its world-leading university and research sectors to deliver the technologies of the future and capture growth.” 

While the report and the work accompanying it pay dividends for a close reading in every member institution, it is worth highlighting some of the key aspects and conclusions: 

  • Although specific to tertiary education the proposed Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework (SCEF) covers scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions and is based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Once established, the SCEF has the potential to be rolled out to schools, drawing on the work and experience of the tertiary education sector at no further cost 
  • The SCEF is the most detailed plan in the UK public sector. It aims to deliver consistency and transparency around emissions data collection, and to enable better decision-making as a result 
  • There is an emphasis on collaboration within the sector, and with others such as local authorities, regional governments and the private sector 
  • While adoption of the Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework is not intended to be mandatory, the report states that “it would go a long way to help us focus our actions, if adopted”. There is an implicit ambition that those organisations who do not use the framework will be the exception 
  • The aim of those involved in the report’s production is that the SCEF should be in place by 2024. 

The report is also clear in highlighting specific short-term priorities that we think are of use to every member institution: 

  • Continuing to focus on adaptation of the build environment and of retrofits ahead of new builds 
  • A shift to a more ‘purposeful travel’ policy 
  • Emphasis on a sustainable supply chain with sustainability an increasingly important factor in purchasing decisions; and on internal skills and resourcing, to ensure we have the people we need to steer this entire agenda 
  • A long-term investment approach to unlock greater investment from the public, private and third sectors, and as adopt sustainable finance principles and products, including 'green bonds' 

Erica Conway, Chief Financial Officer at the University of Birmingham and BUFDG Chair said, “many universities have committed to ambitious Carbon Net Zero targets knowing that implementing them will come at a high financial cost. The Platinum Jubilee Challenge report sets out early experiences of universities and colleges alongside some welcome, practical suggestions to their peers. We hope that policy recommendations to government are taken seriously in support of future generations and ultimately of the planet we live on."

We have published a set of common FAQs relating to the publication of ‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’ and the Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework, which can be found on the EUAC website

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