Sheffield University makes 2030 net-zero carbon pledge

The university is the 43rd higher education institution to announce some form of zero-carbon emissions pledge

The University of Sheffield has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions on campus by 2030 – and total carbon neutrality by 2038.

The goal was announced to coincide with the university’s five-year sustainability strategy. It joins 42 other higher education institutions (HEI) in setting a goal for net-zero carbon emissions. Sheffield becomes the 12th UK university to set a target of the end of the decade, joining, among others, Bristol, Southampton, Leeds, Surrey, UCL, Keele, the University of the West of England and the London School of Economics.

Cardiff, Plymouth, Winchester, Hull, Nottingham and King’s College London are the only HEIs pledged to achieve net-zero before 2030.

We don’t take this commitment on lightly and we don’t currently have all the answers. The challenges we face are multifaceted
– Prof Koen Lamberts, vice-chancellor

Since 2005, the university has cut carbon emissions by 35% – but will need to accelerate progress to achieve its 10-year goal. The university expects to reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions (those created on campus) by 60% by 2025, and Scope 3 emissions (those created off-campus, like travel and the university supply chain) by 75% by 2030.

The university earlier this year switched to a renewable electricity supply and has vowed to tackle “high carbon travel practices” by the end of this year.

The net-zero pledge will require an element of carbon offsetting, the university concedes. The practice is contentious and has been discouraged by organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The university has, however, stated its priority is to reduce “absolute emissions as much as possible” and “establish what the most effective way of offsetting is” before pledging resources to this activity.

The university also pledged to embed Education for Sustainable Development into all taught courses.

President and vice-chancellor Prof Koen Lamberts said: “We don’t take this commitment on lightly and we don’t currently have all the answers. The challenges we face are multifaceted, and any action we take to overcome them requires a careful balance between environmental, economic and social factors to understand their full impact.” A ‘University Vision’ report, slated for release in 2025, will build on a 2021 Energy Strategy to establish how the university will create and maintain carbon-neutral operations in the future.

Dr Rachael Rothman, co-director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and academic lead for sustainability at the university, said: “Underpinning our strategy, lies an action plan which will ensure that we are being transparent by showing how we aim to achieve our ambitious targets. We will be providing regular updates to ensure we are making progress towards our targets and continually assessing that our strategy remains in line with the science.”

Jordan Weir, University of Sheffield Students’ Union development officer and student lead for sustainability, said: “This strategy is a tribute to the years of constructive campaigning that students at Sheffield have undertaken. I am delighted that the university has committed to targeting a net-zero campus by 2030. This shows the university is willing to listen to climate science and student campaigners in its sustainability activities. I look forward to working with the university and Students’ Union colleagues to achieve our collective goals.” net-zero Sheffield

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