University on track to miss carbon targets

Recent figures obtained by Nouse have revealed the University is set to miss its long term carbon emissions target. It has since admitted this to be a “challenging target”

Credit: Brandon Seager

Credit: Brandon Seager

Recent figures obtained by Nouse have revealed the University is set to miss its long term carbon emissions target.

The University is making very little progress in meeting its target to achieve a reduction of 62 per cent, which was recently outlined in its Sustainability Report for 2012. It has since admitted this to be a “challenging target”.

Although last year the University’s emissions were 779 tonnes lower than forecast, the University has flat lined since 2007. It now has just seven years to achieve this 62 per cent reduction.

According to the report, “The University’s target is to achieve a reduction of 48% in annual carbon emissions by 2020 against a 2005 baseline, in line with Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) requirements.”

However the report admitted that the actual reduction needed to meet emissions requirements is much greater. “Taking into account the planned University growth the actual reduction to be achieved is 62% or 20,994 tonnes of CO2 per annum.”

According to the HEFCE website: “There are currently no financial penalties planned for institutions who do not meet their 2020 target.

“Our approach under the Capital Investment Framework 2 is to consider carbon reductions made and processes for managing emissions. We expect to adopt a similar approach in the future, rather than just looking at whether targets have been achieved.”

However, it goes on to say that: “Requirements under any future Capital Investment Framework are expected to be more demanding… Institutions should also bear in mind that carbon targets and progress against them need to be reported publicly.”

If York were to continue to miss targets there is the possibility the University would face penalties.

Currently, the University is struggling to meet this requirement, having increased rather than decreased its emissions over the last five years. In 2007/2008 25,721 tonnes of CO2 were emitted. This increased further to 26,412 in 2008/09.

Credit: Brandon Seager

Credit: Brandon Seager

Although the University has identified areas where it could reduce its carbon emissions, the initiatives to do so that are currently receiving funding amount to only 9,752 tonnes a year – largely comprised of the installation of the two combined heat and power plants and the biomass boiler.

Despite identifying solutions that could save 18,947 tonnes of carbon every year, the University has failed to provide funding for these so far.

These initiatives could be key to offsetting the increase in emissions as a result of the University’s expansion.

Carbon emissions were reduced by 24 per cent per head and 12 per cent per square metre in 2005/06. However, the University has managed to withhold its overall emissions total, by refusing to give data on the impact of college nine on emissions.

The records office maintains this secrecy on the grounds that the Heslington East accommodation is jointly owned in a venture with Evans Property Group, as previously reported in a Nouse investigation.

The report said, “The targets we have to achieve by 2020 are based on absolute emissions – in other words they take no account of the University’s expansion.”

Further University records obtained by Nouse show the share of electricity use for residential buildings has reduced from 36 per cent to 33 per cent but has increased from 64 per cent to 67 per cent for nonresidential, indicating that it is not just the expansion and increase in students that is making it difficult for the University to meet its target.

There is also evidence that specific departments are responsible for a greater proportion of the high energy use. For example, Biology Laboratories Blocks A-G & J-M used more than 11,100,000kWh for the year up to July 2012.

The cost of energy itself is also an increasing concern, having risen from £3,384,196 in 2007-08 to £5,073,744 in 2011-12.

Energy hikes by the University’s suppliers such as Scottish Power and Southern Energy mean the cost could rise again.

However, a small reduction of 0.04 per cent is predicted this year. Defending the University’s position, a spokesperson said, “The University’s Carbon Management Plan specifies targets for carbon reduction to be achieved by 2020. Our updated plan indicates that carbon emissions for 2011/12 were lower than the forecast – 26,207 tonnes compared with a prediction of 26,986.

“The updated plan also forecasts a substantial reduction in emissions from 2012/13 due to the installation of a biomass boiler and two combined heat and power plants (CHPs) last year. The introduction of the CHP capability is why we are expecting electricity costs to drop significantly: the CHPs will allow us to generate electricity ourselves more efficiently with a consequent reduction in the amount of electricity we import.”

These savings are expected to be offset by rising costs and emissions from the opening of college nine.

However, this will not be included in the University’s overall bill, again hidden on the grounds that college nine is owned by a University subsidiary company.

The spokesperson added, “Students and staff are already making an important contribution towards reducing carbon emissions through the Student Switch Off Programme and the Green Impact Programme but we can all do more. The University welcomes constructive suggestions to help us achieve our goals in this area.”

Isobel Edwards, YUSU Environment and Ethics Officer, commented, “In recent talks we had with the university asking them to consider different carbon-reducing strategies they insisted that they were doing enough already, hopefully this will lead to some effective new policies being put into place.”

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