Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world. Universities and colleges have a big role to play in tackling it. This strategy gives practical effect to our commitment to work together to help the UK to reduce its greenhouse emissions substantially.
As a sector, we are in a unique position to lead the way. Many institutions are already reducing their own carbon footprint through energy efficiency and better environmental management. They are buying more sustainable goods and services.
Our researchers are not only investigating the potential impact of climate change, they are working with industry and the public sector to develop innovative solutions to the challenges it creates. Our students and graduates are shaping and leading the debate and the responses to it at every level of society. As a sector, we can be leaders in our response at all levels.
There is no doubt about the seriousness of the issue. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that climate change is unequivocal and that human activities make a big contribution. The 2006 Stern Review showed how the benefits of strong early action greatly outweigh the costs of inaction. The overwhelming view of scientists is that unless we make deep inroads into our carbon emissions, we are likely to see adverse climate change with severe impacts on coastal communities, food supplies and the number of species in the world.
So we are pleased that, through our consultation, we have secured the commitment of the sector to reducing its carbon emissions, in many cases building on work already under way. Of course, this is just one important aspect of sustainable development. HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE are working together on this and other initiatives to ensure a strong future not only for our environment but also for our sector. We should not underestimate the size of this challenge, nor its cost. The targets that society and the sector must achieve will not be easy: reducing our direct emissions and those caused by our electricity purchases by 34 per cent by 2020 (against 1990 levels) and 80 per cent by 2050 will demand creativity, co-ordination and commitment throughout the sector.
Each university and college will need to turn those national goals into institutional targets that can be measured over time against regular milestones. How they do so will vary considerably. An arts-focused university may have a very different carbon footprint from one with a strong science base. But the need to act is universal, and we can all ensure that our buildings are better insulated, our energy use is better controlled and our purchases are more considered.
As you introduce your targets, you will not be on your own. We will continue to share examples of how others in the sector have made a difference. HEFCE’s capital funding will provide financial incentives to support better carbon management as you renew your estate and buildings.
Together, we can – and must – meet the carbon challenge.
Chief Executive, HEFCE