Achieving net-zero emissions

Research at the University of Leeds is driving progress towards achieving local, national and global net-zero emissions targets.

University of Leeds campus

 

In September 2019 the University of Leeds announced plans for bold action on achieving net-zero: reducing its own carbon footprint to net-zero by 2030 and focusing teaching, research and engagement on this grand challenge. This page highlights how the University is meeting the research strand of its broader ambitions.

Experts across campus are working together to develop solutions that meet the unprecedented scale and complexity of the challenges involved in achieving net-zero emissions, from bioenergy to renewables, governance systems to sustainable transport. Through our net-zero initiative we are harnessing our diverse research expertise to deliver these necessarily ambitious targets. Our researchers are working with businesses, governments and communities to identify the most promising solutions that can withstand a warmer climate and deliver multiple benefits for human quality of life and the planet. 

What is net-zero?

In order to limit the increase in global mean temperature to well below 2°C – pursuing efforts for 1.5°C – as set by the Paris Agreement, several countries including the UK have set targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by 2050, or even before.

Net-zero GHG emissions refers to the overall balance between GHGs emitted into the atmosphere and GHGs actively removed from the atmosphere.

To achieve net-zero, GHG emissions must be reduced to zero where feasible and any remaining GHG emissions must be balanced by active removal from the atmosphere through natural or technological processes that lead to negative emissions.

Net-zero research at Leeds

The need for rapid, large-scale action to achieve net-zero by 2050 is paramount and will have significant ramifications reaching across the economy and society, as decarbonisation is accelerated. Technological innovation, ambitious policy implementation, and behaviour change are all essential for delivering net-zero. Research at the University of Leeds spans three key areas of action, and three fundamental principles that must cut across these areas.

Key areas of action

Decarbonising energy supply
Achieving net-zero will involve transitioning to an energy system that is comprised solely of low carbon sources. Key to this is the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and electrification of the energy system, alongside a widespread, rapid roll-out of renewable and other low carbon sources.
Reducing demand
Supply-side changes must be accompanied by reductions in demand for energy services. This requires improved energy efficiency measures across industry, the built environment and in the home, alongside significant shifts in consumption and changes in behaviour.
Capture and removal
Alongside capturing greenhouse gases from industrial processes before they enter the atmosphere, active removal is necessary to balance remaining emissions from hard-to-treat sectors. This can be achieved through natural processes such as afforestation and using technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

Fundamental principles

Just transitions
The transition to net-zero must be managed to ensure that burdens and benefits are fairly distributed, and to protect the most vulnerable populations and communities. This includes fair apportionment of the remaining emissions between nations based on historic contributions.
Ensuring resilience
Any actions taken to achieve net-zero must be resilient to the impacts of a changing climate. Even at the current level of warming the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have increased and therefore technologies, systems and societies must be appropriately equipped.
Delivering co-benefits
A well-managed transition to net-zero can deliver multiple co-benefits, as well as avoided costs. For example, improved human health will result from better air quality, more active travel, and changes in diet, and larger areas of green space may lead to increases in biodiversity.

Action across scales

University of Leeds researchers are leading the way in delivery of net-zero at the international, national and local scales:

International

Leeds is heavily engaged with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s scientific assessments have been seminal in the development of the Paris Agreement and in ongoing efforts to support countries in setting emissions reduction commitments to meet the 1.5°C target. Leeds researchers continue to contribute to IPCC assessments used in periodical stocktakes of the Paris Agreement implementation.  

National

Leeds research and expertise underpinned the ground-breaking commitment by the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The recommendations from the UK Committee on Climate Change, on which this commitment is based, includes a broad range of input from the University of Leeds, including key evidence on remaining emissions, the UK’s carbon footprint and energy demand reduction.

Local

Leeds researchers are leading the Leeds Climate Commission which seeks to be an independent voice in the city, providing authoritative advice on steps towards a low carbon, climate resilient future so as to inform policies and shape the actions of local stakeholders and decision makers. Leeds researchers have developed a carbon roadmap for Leeds, demonstrating that Leeds could become carbon neutral by 2050

Net-zero on campus

In September 2019 the University of Leeds announced plans for bold action on climate, outlining seven principles to guide the University’s actions. The University’s governing body has approved a 2030 net-zero carbon footprint target and a drive to achieve no direct carbon emissions by 2050. Led by the Sustainability Service and working with Leeds academics, researchers and students, the University are preparing their next Climate Plan and sustainability strategy to deliver on this commitment. 

Read the announcement and more about the seven principles.