A new report from the Royal Anniversary Trust has set out actions that the UK tertiary education sector and government should take to accelerate progress towards net zero.
The 'Accelerating the UK tertiary education sector towards net zero' report is the outcome of the Platinum Jubilee Challenge, which brought together 21 winning institutions by the Royal Anniversary Trust. The report is a sector-led proposal for action and connected thinking, which includes a sector specific reporting framework for emissions, developed by EAUC on behalf of higher and further education institutions. We were one of the stakeholders providing input into the report and we welcome its findings.
What’s the purpose of the report?
The report is a useful resource for universities to raise their ambitions and meet their goals for sustainability. It provides much needed guidance on what higher and further education institutions should report on carbon emissions, and how to report them. While the reporting of carbon emissions for universities is not currently mandatory in England and Northern Ireland, the government’s net zero strategy commits to legislate reporting of emissions if insufficient progress is made voluntarily.
What progress is expected?
An idea of what progress is expected was set out in the Department for Education (DfE)’s sustainability and climate change strategy in 2022. The strategy stated that universities must baseline their on-site emissions by 2024. By 2025 universities must report against national targets and have climate action plans in place that increase carbon literacy, implement decarbonisation and nature-based solutions.
- We support the report’s recommendation that government works with JISC (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) to align current data collection mechanisms with the newly published framework. It will be important that changes to data collection enable universities to report their progress transparently and consistently, but at the same time minimise burden. Further details on reporting requirements can be found at the FAQs published by the DfE.
- Higher education must also prepare for the expectation of climate action plans being in place by 2025. Many universities already have sustainability strategies in place, but preparing climate action plans will be a fresh opportunity to look at what more can be done and how universities utilise their roles in education, research, civic engagement, and influencing national and global leadership. UUK, working with DfE, EAUC and other partners in the sector will be supporting its members in the preparation of plans.
- The report makes a number of recommendations to government and is right to highlight that finance and investment is a key enabler of spurring the transition to net zero for higher education.
While good progress has been made by universities, cost is one of the key challenges that must be overcome. The level of funding needed for universities, to meet their net zero goals as well as to maintain their world-leading position in research and teaching, is part of a wider conversation UUK is leading in order to develop solutions.