Unpacking the University of Leeds Climate Plan
The University of Leeds has an ambitious strategy for supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation. “I’m excited to lead the delivery team for such an ambitious plan to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2030”, said Will Reed, Project Manager of Net Zero Delivery. The Climate Plan aims to contribute to a healthier, greener, and fairer Leeds for all who live, work and study here. Approved in November 2021, it is the biggest investment commitment ever made by the University -- £174 million is going towards the plan over the decade. The Climate Plan aims to address seven important climate principles. Created through an internal consultation process with students, staff and academics, they are:
· Delivering Net Zero by 2030
· Achieving Sustainable Travel
· Supporting a Net Zero City
· Providing a Sustainable Curriculum
· Reorientating Research and Teaching
· Enabling Responsible Investment
· Shaping Institutional Decision Making
These principles all have their specific governing boards driving and monitoring progress in order to enable change. More subjective targets (e.g., Providing a Sustainable Curriculum) are tough to create metrics for, this calls for collaborative action. The Climate Plan is holding events for gathering stakeholder feedback, especially from students. “Student engagement is fundamental to our delivery.” Said Will Reed, “This is an area that we know we need to improve upon and I’m looking forward to working more closely with students to identify new opportunities and also to share the actions we could all take to help us achieve Net Zero emissions.”. An annual public consultation on the overall Climate Plan was recently held, and similar events will continue as the project unfolds.
The most complex and pioneering of the climate principles is Delivering Net Zero by 2030. The majority of funding (£150 million) is devoted to achieving this target. To do this, the University had to identify all emissions created, they can be split into three “scopes”. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions created by University operations e.g., livestock emissions from the University farm. Scope 2 includes indirect emissions from purchased energy e.g., emissions from the energy needed to heat lecture halls. Scope 3 emissions are other indirect emissions – including emissions from the supply chain. The emissions breakdown of the University is detailed below.
Figure 1: University Emissions Breakdown
Scope 3 emissions usually make up the majority of emissions for businesses. They are also the most difficult to measure, regulate and successfully impact. Therefore, at the moment, Net Zero by 2030 only includes business travel and commuting emissions from Scope 3 in the target. The University then aims to be on a trajectory for net zero direct emissions by 2050. Transparency about this is important to avoid greenwashing.
The emissions reduction process is certainly not linear due to the many enabling requirements to allow large reductions. Most notably, 2027 is predicted to see the largest reduction in emissions due to the completion of the retrofitting project which allows for the electrification of heat in University buildings. This enables the use of University produced renewable energy and certified offsets in energy consumption. The net-zero delivery pathway is shown below.
Figure 2: Net Zero Delivery Pathway
There are many risks affecting the ability of the University to deliver net zero and the other six climate principles on time and within budget. Recent inflation of over 10% in the UK, caused by supply chain issues and the Russian war in Ukraine, have led to cost rises for inputs needed to the net zero pathway. Although energy inflation adds an additional incentive to complete projects faster, it highlights that achieving net zero is subject to many uncontrollable external risks.
The net-zero pathway is also dynamic. Emissions reductions are the priority, but offsetting projects are being researched now – ensuring verifiable renewable energy offsets can be used when necessary. Moreover, ongoing research into ways the University can measure and successfully reduce more scope 3 emissions is imperative.
We can all help contribute to the seven Climate Plan principles. The impact of small behavioural changes such as buying sustainable clothing or reducing red meat consumption cannot be underestimated. The multi-dimensional Climate Plan is undoubtedly ambitious. It enables structural changes at the University to address the climate crisis and wider environmental issues as fast as possible and in a responsible manner.
It is great to see that the University is utilising some of its World-leading environmental academics to implement a flagship plan. The University wants to be at the forefront of the net zero implementation strategy, fulfilling its obligations as a research institution. Will Reed told me, “Something we’re passionate about is sharing our experiences to help other organisations to achieve Net Zero emissions too. This means sharing our failures as well as successes.”. It may make mistakes but what’s important is how quickly it can learn and adapt from them; this requires input from us all.