Cambridge University takes bold steps to become greener, zero carbon by 2048

Cambridge University takes bold steps to become greener, zero carbon by 2048
06 / 12 / 2019
بقلم Marwa Nassar - -

Cambridge University is taking bold steps to contribute to international efforts to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a recent report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 percent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

The report said that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal.

Therefore, Cambridge University launched an ambitious climate initiative “Cambridge Zero” which is meant to generate ideas and innovations to help shape a sustainable future – and equip future generations of leaders with the skills to navigate the global challenges of the coming decades.

This is not the sole measure taken by the university to curb climate change, the university has become the first university in the world to announce that it has adopted a 1.5 degrees Science Based Target (SBT) for carbon reduction, committing itself to cut its energy-related carbon emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with a steep 75% decrease in 2015 emissions by 2030.

Prof Ian Leslie, senior adviser to the vice-chancellor, said: “As a world-leading university, we need to not only take responsibility for our own carbon emissions, but also to demonstrate to others what is achievable.”

“By setting an ambitious target for carbon reduction and aiming to reach it a decade early, we hope to provide opportunities for others to learn from our approach, including where we are successful and areas that are found to be challenging.”

The pledge is based on Science Based Targets (SBT), which are independently set and based on the target made at the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep worldwide temperature increases below 1.5 degrees.

Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Cambridge University’s director of research on carbon neutrality, said: “The important point about SBTs is that they are not arbitrary, but rather are robust and evidence-based.”

Shuckburgh recently joined the University from the British Antarctic Survey to lead the Cambridge Zero initiative. The program will harness the full breadth of the University’s research capabilities across the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences to respond to climate change and support the transition to a resilient, sustainable future.

Cambridge Zero is not just about developing greener fuels, technologies and materials. It’s about addressing every aspect of a zero carbon future; the impact it will have on people’s lives, work, society and economy, and ensuring decisions are based on the best available knowledge.

By developing a bold program of education, research, demonstration projects and knowledge exchange focused on supporting a zero carbon world, the initiative’s ambition is to generate and disseminate the ideas and innovations that will shape the future – and to equip a future generation of leaders with the skills to navigate the global challenges of the coming decades.

Its launch comes a few months after the UK became the first major world economy to legislate for net zero emissions. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will mean a fundamental change over the coming decades in all aspects of the economy, including means of generating energy, and building decarbonization into policy and investment.

With livestock sector representing 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, Cambridge University has removed ruminant meats from its menu within the framework of its bold steps to reduce CO2. Notably, absent from the menu are beef and lamb.

“It’s become increasingly clear over the past few years that sustainable catering is important to our students,” says Nick White, Head of the University Catering Service (UCS), which is responsible for 14 outlets across the University of Cambridge and over 1,500 hospitality events each year.

UCS had already introduced a number of sustainability measures, including a ‘KeepCup’ scheme, compostable ‘vegware’ crockery and cutlery and a move to fairly-traded coffee and tea.

In late 2017, Nick and Paula White, the Catering Manager, watched the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary and, like many people, were shocked and moved by the devastating effect on marine life of plastic waste.

They vowed to remove single-use plastic from their facilities. But recycling plastics from catering use is not straightforward: once plastics are contaminated with food, they can’t be recycled and have to go off to landfill.

The answer was to choose compostable plastic-substitutes. Now, everything from the serving platters used in their hospitality events through to cups and even crisp packaging can be taken along with food waste to a local energy plant for anaerobic digestion, rather than going to landfill.

The most difficult decision was to remove single use plastic bottles. UCS sells around 30,000 bottles of water a year, so removing them would inevitably lead to a financial hit.

“In the end, if you want to achieve these things, you have to make a sacrifice; you have to do things that are challenging to do. But it was the right thing to do. This has always been about making the right choice easy. It was a case of showing our staff and our students ‘You’ve made the sustainable choice by going to our cafeterias.’”

The impact has been dramatic. UCS has managed to reduce the amount of CO2 produced per kg of food purchased by a third. In a three month period in 2018, despite purchasing a third more food than the same period in 2015, the overall carbon footprint of the food fell by 11%. Since the adoption of the policy, the team estimates that they have saved over 500 tons of CO2, the equivalent of driving 1.2 million miles in an average car. Meanwhile, 142 tons has been directed away from landfill to anaerobic digestion since August 2017.

Nick was keenly aware, however, that all this hard work might amount to nothing if the Sustainable Food Policy was not at the same time financially sustainable; his efforts would go down as an honorable failure.

The reverse turned out to be true.

“Our sales and our gross profits improved; it was good financially for us,” he explains. “That’s an important message to take to the commercial sector – you can do this profitably. But you have to be really passionate, you have to be enthusiastic, you have to inspire your team.”

Moreover, the university has adopted several measures to confront climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions, the university is seeking to generate its own electricity, for example by building its own solar farm; entering into agreements with suppliers to provide certified green energy; and moving to electric vehicles for its fleet and the University bus service.

One of the major challenges will be removing gas for central heating and cooking from its estate. The university has just launched a feasibility study looking at whether and how it might do so. “It will probably be a gradual thing, fitting in with how we maintain the estate,” says Ian. “But the elimination of gas could be a huge thing if we achieve it.”

Cambridge’s target focuses on direct emissions from its own sources and indirect emissions from the generation of the energy it purchases – so-called Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. It is also working on setting its Scope 3 target, which focus on non-energy related carbon emissions.

Cambridge University with its teams of researchers and professors has been also working hard to develop clean energy resources to curb climate change.

“Cambridge is already one of the UK’s leading universities in battery science and a major contributor to the Faraday Institution’s battery program for electric vehicles,” says Professor Manish Chhowalla, the Cambridge Royce Champion. “The Royce facilities help us supplement the chemistry and physics research we’re already doing with engineering approaches that will help bring our research to market faster.”

Professor Sir Richard Friend, Director of Energy Transitions@Cambridge – which brings together over 250 Cambridge researchers working on areas such as bioenergy, batteries, photovoltaics, carbon capture, propulsion and power, and cities and transport – added that working in collaboration with industry is the only way to enable the energy transition.

Although Cambridge has the research and knowledge base to identify new solutions, it does not have the capabilities to produce those solutions on an industrial scale: “It’s important to understand what industry actually wants, rather than what we presume it wants.”

Through initiatives such as the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national institute for materials science research and innovation, Cambridge researchers are also developing next-generation materials for energy storage and use.

“Climate change policy is particularly challenging as it cuts across so many sectors and demands engagement with many different stakeholders,” says Dr David Reiner, from the Energy Policy Research Group at Cambridge Judge Business School, and one of the co-editors of the recent book In Search of Good Energy Policy with Professor Michael Pollitt.

“Good policy isn’t just about getting the numbers right, because even the numbers are controversial,” says Reiner. “Different groups have different priorities, so how do we determine which numbers to put stock in and which things are actually important?”

Shuckburgh is echoing this broad approach in Cambridge Zero. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to make an impact, which is why it’s vital we bring in multiple perspectives to ensure that we’re translating scientific knowledge into innovations that are rapidly deployed in the real world – and robust, evidence-based policy that works for everyone,” she says.

“It’s great to see climate change finally breaking through as a priority with the public,” says Pollitt. “But the challenge has always been when you start asking about specifics. Lifestyle changes are cheap, but they’re intrusive.. you’re going to need serious decarbonization policies to reach where we need to get to.”

A major energy policy – such as decarbonizing the electricity grid or banning petrol cars – generally requires a decade of planning, and another two decades to implement. It also requires public engagement, says Pollitt: “If the public feel they haven’t been consulted on a new policy, they’re less likely to support it, and they need to see that these policies have benefits that minimize the negative effects. A carbon neutral economy isn’t unachievable, but there are massive challenges associated with it, and we have to face those challenges with eyes wide open.”

Thus, Cambridge University would be inspiring others with its initiatives to work hard to start climate action which is threatening the whole globe.

شارك الخبر

اترك تعليقا

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

مقالات ذات صلة