Before our slot - which was at the top of the meeting agenda proper - a few matters from previous meetings were discussed. Of particular interest to us were plans for a new website, detailing the University’s carbon-reducing efforts. Also the Estates had been contacting other UK Universities, to create a picture of ‘who’s doing what’ regarding emissions reductions. It seems bizarrely late in the day to be doing this, considering the energy strategy is three years old, but seeking inspiration is a positive move. A sense of rivalry was also apparent in the room, with jokes exchanged about outdoing Manchester, which can never hurt. The impressive performance of Lancaster University was noted, and it was revealed that Bob Rabone has visited their facilities.
The presentation we made to the group can be seen here. We kicked-off by reminding the group of the global carbon budget, emphasising that in order to have a good chance of limiting global warming to 2C, the globe must be carbon neutral by 2040 (10 years prior to that magic 80% target of ours). We argued even this may not be enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with over 100 nations now calling for an international agreement to limit warming to 1.5C. According to climate experts, this would require global carbon neutrality 10-20 years prior to the 2C scenario, reinforcing our vision of a carbon neutral university by 2025. We then turned to the University’s progress (or lack of) towards the 2020 target. A recent report by sustainability consultants Brite Green states that our emissions rose 28% from 2005 to 2013, placing us a woeful 120/126 of English Universities. However, Phil Riley brought it to our attention that the 2005 baseline adopted by Brite green (34,000 tCO2) was incorrect, and a revised figure (43,000 tCO2) has been submitted to HEFCE - putting us at a 2% reduction in 2013. The situation isn’t as bad as we thought, but without doubt the University is not on track to meet its target.
We moved on to the wind farm proposal we’ve been developing. It seems clear that the University wants/needs to own any self-generation to ensure its carbon can be offset. However, financing such an endeavour may not be too difficult, as Bob Rabone referred to favourable conditions to borrowing money (likely better than most wind farm developers). We know from previous correspondence with Steven Ward and Phil Riley that the new AMRC2 (Factory 2050) site has wind power potential, but we're waiting on the details.
We wrapped up our presentation with 4 clear requests of the CMG: that they accept our help towards achieving the 2020 target, they seek advice on how to reduce emissions by 100%, they adopt a carbon neutral target and plan to execute it, and they agree to assess/review proposals submitted by our group.
Head of Estates Keith Lilley arrived shortly after our presentation, and contributed to the discussion. He was quick to jump to the defense of his colleagues in the room - reminding everyone that by certain metrics the University are reducing emissions (when measured per person, or square meter of building space, for example), and campus expansions make reductions in real terms difficult. In this context, he was keen to frame our relatively constant emissions as a success. We countered that these (seemingly endless) expansions don’t need to come at a carbon cost. With careful design it is possible to make new buildings carbon neutral from the outset, and they absolutely should be. Indeed, this is likely much cheaper than retrofitting old buildings. You only need to look as far as the Diamond, which far from serving as a “major contribution to our determination to reduce our carbon footprint” - as stated on the University website - actually represents an astonishing missed opportunity for truly carbon neutral development.
Richard Jones was very forthcoming and approved of our drive to harness more expertise from in-house academics, and emphasised the importance of getting academics to think more critically about the emissions associated with their work. We of course agreed, and suggested that more granular metering on a group or departmental basis would allow the more research-intensive departments to realise their impact. As soon as this is available, an on-campus carbon trading system could be established.
Finally, we were thanked and asked to leave for the remainder of the meeting. We believe a decision on whether or not to have permanent CNU representation on the CMG was made, but we are yet to be informed of the outcome. Should we be invited back in 3 months time, we’ll surely have plenty of progress to report. Let’s hope the same can be said for the Carbon Management Group.