Carbon roadmap tree

The University of Exeter has set clear carbon-reduction targets

Rigour and detail key for climate transformation

Organisations must examine every detail of their environmental impact to tackle the climate emergency, a leading researcher says.

Many businesses and institutions have carbon-cutting targets or other green goals, but action is happening too slowly, focused on "quick wins" or promising (but largely unproven) new technologies.

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, of the University of Exeter, says no one has "got it right" yet – but scientific rigour, sharing of evidence and ideas, and a focus on details could spark the rapid and extensive change that is necessary.

Since declaring an environment and climate emergency two years ago today (20th May 2019), the University of Exeter has made meaningful progress – but faster change is needed and a new "roadmap" sets out a plan to achieve this.

"The COVID pandemic led to a temporary reduction in global carbon emissions, but for many organisations – including us at the University of Exeter – carbon savings in some areas were largely outweighed by increased emissions related to meeting COVID safety standards," Professor Devine-Wright said.

"The difficulty of cutting and sustaining low emissions – even during a pandemic – shows the massive scale of the challenge we face."

The University has more than 500 staff working across the broad area of climate and environment, including the UK’s top five most influential climate scientists (according to a list recently published by Reuters).

"We are drawing on this world-leading expertise to inform our own actions, and we are determined to help others across the South West, the UK and worldwide to do the same," said Professor Devine-Wright, chair of Devon's Net Zero Task Force.

The University's detailed approach to the environment and climate emergency is based on 288 recommendations from a working group of staff and students.

In the last two years, the University has:

-        set carbon-reduction targets (scope 1, 2, and 3): 30% by 2025, 60% by 2030, 100% before 2050.

-        divested from fossil fuels.

-        installed additional solar panels and electric vehicle charging points. More than a megawatt of solar power is now generated per year on Exeter's campuses.

-        created more than five acres of grassland and planted more than 400 trees

-        established an engagement programme to connect and build momentum, including a Green Rewards scheme for staff and students. More than 38,000kg of carbon has been saved though energy saving, recycling and meat-free days.

-        created an online tool to allow communities to measure their carbon footprint.

-        set up the South West Environment and Climate Actions Network (SWeCAN).

The next steps include:

-        sustaining the 50% reduction in non-essential business travel.

-        establishing a new programme of waste minimisation and management – in particular reducing food waste.

-        adopting international guidance (ISO20400) on sustainable procurement.

-        rolling out Climate Literacy Training across the University.

-        continuing to develop partnerships and projects to deliver climate-change research and knowledge into industry, such as through the launch of a new strategic partnership with the National Trust.

"All these activities enable the University to build firm future-focused and climate-positive foundations, working towards carbon net zero and aiming to go beyond that to achieve environmental net gain," said Dr Emma Page, Head of Environment and Climate Emergency at the University of Exeter.

"Our carbon roadmap sets out our framework for the transformational steps we must adopt to reach these goals. These steps are not linear, and they are not easy.

"These changes won't happen overnight, and we are working hard on every aspect of the University's operations to make sure we move as quickly as possible, and make meaningful progress."

Professor Lisa Roberts, Exeter's Vice-Chancellor, said: "We are harnessing the power of our University’s significant expertise in climate and environment research to lead the way in our own transformation, and we are also here to work with businesses locally and globally to help them with their own solutions and goals.  

"We will continue to look for opportunities to engage and share our development and work with our partners, the community, our staff and students to build a green future, and one that the University can be proud to lead."

The University has this week launched a Green Futures campaign to drive action on the environment and climate emergency ahead of the G7 in Cornwall and COP26 in Glasgow this year.

Businesses and organisations that want to become more sustainable are invited to contact the University of Exeter, either via Tevi (Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) or by emailing

Date: 20 May 2021

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