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More than half of UK universities are failing to reach their carbon reduction targets, according to new research.

An analysis of 153 UK universities’ sustainability and ethics criteria shows the majority of the UK higher education sector has failed to reach a carbon reduction target of 43 per cent between 2005/6 and 2020/21.

Student campaigning organisation People & Planet compiled a league table of higher education establishments using stats from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The two most important ways universities reduced carbon emissions are by purchasing energy from green tariffs and the generation of renewable energy either on or off-site. Cardiff, for example, has replaced gas boilers with electric models, installed solar electric panels, EV bike and car chargers, sports arena LED lighting and re-circulation ventilation systems.

However, universities are performing badly in both of these areas: 44 per cent of universities did not buy or report buying from green tariffs, and just 8% of universities reported generating over 10 per cent of their energy from renewable sources.

Cardiff Metropolitan University topped the league by reducing its carbon emissions by 65 per cent between 2005/6 and 2020/21. Stranmillis University College in Belfast finished bottom with just 2.2 per cent overall.

Jack Ruane, University League Manager at People & Planet said: “In 2010 the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Universities UK, and Guild Higher Education set out a target of a 43 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020/21 from a 2005/6 baseline.

“It is disappointing to see that 59 per cent of the UK universities have failed to achieve this. This highlights the importance of holding the sector accountable via short-term assessments of actual reductions in carbon emissions, rather than celebrating net zero target-setting, which are often vague on how offsetting will be achieved.”

The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, had two institutions in the top ten – The University of Exeter and University College London.

The highest mover is the Royal College of Music, which rocketed 99 places to 28th place.

Laura Clayson, campaigns manager at Climate Justice said: “Despite 100 UK universities having now publicly announced the exclusion of fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios, just 60 have enshrined this commitment in a valid policy document.

“Concerningly, this is a significant drop from 76 last year. This – coupled with a sector where only 28 per cent of universities publicly list their investment holdings – displays the importance of the People & Planet University League as an annual accountability mechanism.

“Severing investment ties with the fossil fuel industry is an important first step for universities to act upon their responsibility to communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and fossil fuel extraction impacts. We hope to see a sharp increase in policy exclusions in next year’s League in line with this.”

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