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The University of Exeter must take rapid action to tackle the environment and climate emergency

University panel reveals climate emergency plan

The University of Exeter must take rapid action to tackle the environment and climate emergency, according to a panel of staff and students.

The panel says the university should be carbon neutral by 2040 in terms of activities it directly controls (such as university vehicles and campus electricity) and by 2050 – or sooner – in indirect emissions (such as those associated with waste and products purchased). 

Its recommendations include cutting long-haul air travel by 50%, increasing recycling to 70% and halving plastic and paper use – all by 2025.

The group, led by Professor Juliet Osborne, was set up when the university declared an environment and climate emergency earlier this year.

Staff and student engagement sessions are now taking place, and the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group has agreed to set up an Environmental Emergency Board which will meet before the end of the year and agree a delivery plan from January 2020.  

“The university must take transformative, rapid action to tackle the environment and climate emergency,” Professor Osborne said.

“We have recommended targets to reduce the university’s carbon emissions and improve the environment.

“We present a wide range of recommendations to meet these targets, which require change across every aspect of university business: including infrastructure, strategy and culture.”

The report says the university should:

  • Be carbon neutral for direct emissions by 2040, cutting emissions as quickly as possible.
  • Reduce indirect emissions by 50% by 2030, with a plan to reach net zero by 2050 (while aiming for 2040).
  • Cease direct investment in fossil fuel companies and carry out an ethical review of sponsorship of research, education and infrastructure.
  • Pursue a policy of “environmental net gain” on its campuses.
  • Commission a review to confirm key areas of change in procurement, which is estimated to make up 61% of the university’s carbon footprint.
  • Radically reduce products and practices with high environmental impact – including the amount of meat served – in hospitality, catering and campus shops.

“The environment and climate emergency is undoubtedly one of the critical issues of our time and a significant priority for the University of Exeter in terms of our research, education and global strategies,” said Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter.

“I am clear that to achieve all the goals and recommendations in this report, we need to engage our 28,000-strong community of students and staff to make the fundamental changes required.

“The senior leadership team can immediately support a good proportion of the goals and recommendations, but there are also areas that will need further work, particularly where there are major financial or structural implications.”

The recommendations to receive immediate support include:

  • Establish a “South West Climate Action Network” to ensure a coordinated and integrated approach across the region.
  • Bring forward investment in areas such as video-conferencing, solar panels and LED lighting to help meet the 2025 emissions goals.
  • Remove all single-use, non-recyclable cups and food boxes while ensuring new materials are effectively recycled or composted. 

Visit the Environment and Climate Emergency website.

Date: 11 November 2019

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