We all know burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are causing on-going damage to the planet by causing climate change (and its associated problems like droughts, flooding and storm damage). Therefore we all, as individuals, have a part to play in reversing the trend to mitigate climate change and stop global warming but we need to work alongside organisations to do the same. After all, we’re in this together, there is no Planet B.
In an attempt to lead by example, further and higher educational institutions are working together to ‘offset’ their efforts in order to reach net-zero emissions. Whether that be through off-setting flights, setting up collaborative strategies to permanently bury carbon emissions or creating learning opportunities for staff and students with progressive case studies. Recommendations have been developed by climate experts at six UK universities, all designed to make a difference to emissions and ultimately carbon offsetting. It’s an ambitious move, with a network of over 55 UK universities and research institutions working together to hopefully deliver significant outcomes at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.
Leading by example
Bastions of educational progression, it’s not surprising that universities should be at the forefront of leading the move to a ‘net-zero future’. If they can ensure carbon emissions are offset by removing carbon from the atmosphere through different methods, e.g. nature-based solutions like planting trees or by technological solutions, like using renewable energy (solar or wind for example) then these initiatives should be a priority for us all to follow.
How do they do it?
The recommendation for universities and colleges considering offsetting their emissions is to maximise the chance of high-quality offsetting and not to have any negative social or environmental impacts.
Professor Paul Lickiss, Imperial’s Academic Leader in Sustainability, said: “As part of the College Sustainability Strategy, Imperial will be developing a travel policy by 2022 and this offsetting report provides useful guidance to consider as we develop that policy. With some research funders now requiring that the emissions from flights are offset, I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other UK universities and colleges to ensure that our use of offsetting meets the highest possible standards.”
7 points to consider
The plan of how education is thinking about carbon offsetting includes:
- Reducing emissions - the priority even before considering offsetting as part of a net-zero strategy
- Establishing robust principles - being able to justify which emissions can and can’t be offset
- Offset schemes - their impact on the local people and environment ensuring they are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals
- Prioritising ‘carbon removal’ offsets – projects designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as by growing trees prioritised over ‘emission reduction’ offsets
- Forming a coalition in the further and higher education sector to support high-integrity offsetting
- Reporting on travel emissions, including student flights, consistently
- Reporting across further and higher education institutions and tracking progress towards a net-zero emissions sector.
As an example of organisations working together for a common goal, this is a great start. We hope these institutions widen their net to include others and also advertise this activity within their own colleges/universities. More traction will be gained through education across the educational landscape and across the student base. This can then be taken into the world of work, bringing the whole issue of net carbon to a wider audience and to the fore of industry, which can only be a good thing.
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