‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’ report

23 January 2023      Jen Summerton, Executive Director

HESPA is pleased to see today’s publication of ‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’, and welcomes the report by The Royal Anniversary Trust and the EAUC, in which several HESPA member universities were involved. We are also pleased to support our sister PHES organisations, AUDE and BUFDG, who have contributed to this work.

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 and to use the HESPA network to contact colleagues at the universities who have been involved in this project.

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 HESPA member universities are featured within the report along with six FE colleges. The report has three main objectives: firstly, to share knowledge; secondly to propose a Standardised Emissions Reporting 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. Recommendations to government contained in the report include 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 Emissions Reporting Framework (SCEF) covers scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions and is based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Once established, the SERF 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 Emissions Reporting 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 SERF 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.”

PHES stablemate, AUDE – which represents colleagues working in Estates - continues to work with Jisc and other interested parties on the future of EMR data collection, and shares our own HESPA member concerns around duplication of activity and data burden. We have published a set of common FAQs relating to the publication of ‘Accelerating towards Net Zero’, the SCEF and the future of EMR sustainability information, and will keep this FAQs document updated in the coming months. We acknowledge the need to collect the right data in a format that works for all parties, and allows consistent, high-quality decisions to be made. If you currently report EMR data please continue to do so. With the intention that the SCEF should be in place by 2024, any transition period to the new state needs to be swiftly managed.

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