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Universities consider carbon offsetting in move to net-zero


Reducing emissions must be the priority for UK universities but carbon offsetting can also play an important role in the transition to net-zero, according to a group of academic experts from the COP26 Universities Network.

The network is made up of more than 50 UK universities and research institutions working together to help deliver an ambitious outcome at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow later this year. 

new briefing launched by the network, and developed with the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), provides guidance to support universities and colleges to develop offsetting policies as part of their net-zero strategies.  

Authors of the briefing stress that these institutions have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the move towards a net-zero future. Ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions will need to be accompanied by some offsetting activity.   

This briefing proposes a way forward for our community

Professor Piers Forster

Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate and one of the briefing authors, said: “The further and higher education sector has an opportunity to showcase how businesses can meet the net-zero emission challenge and turn targets into actions.”  

One of the thorniest issues is carbon offsetting. This briefing proposes a way forward for our community to club together and show the way in time for COP26. 

A further two experts from the University of Leeds contributed to the briefing. Dr Cat Scott is University Academic Fellow in Biosphere-Climate Interactions in the School of Earth and Environment. Toby Green is a PhD researcher based at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Bioenergy.

A considered approach 

The briefing highlights several points of consideration for institutions thinking about carbon offsetting, including: 

  • Reducing emissions must always be the priority before considering offsetting as part of a net-zero strategy 
  • Establish robust principles to justify which emissions can and cannot be offset 
  • Offset schemes must be carefully assessed and should align with the Sustainable Development goals 
  • Prioritise carbon removal offsets over emission reduction offsets 
  • The FHE sector would benefit from forming a coalition to support high-integrity offsetting 
  • Travel emissions, including students flights, should be included as part of a consistent reporting process 
  • Standardised reporting across the FHE sector, will help track progress towards net-zero 

Further and Higher Education Sector Coalition 

One of the key recommendations made by the briefing is already being put into practice. Following the guidance, EAUC have established a sector wide offsetting coalition.  

Announcing the launch of the Carbon Coalition, Fiona Goodwin, EAUC Director of Operations & Planning and co-author of the briefing said: “This coalition will have a scientific advisory board to recommend offsetting projects proving institutions credibility and peace of mind that projects they invest in adhere to these principles. We look forward to working with the sector on this vital work.”  

For FHE sector colleagues who would like to learn more about this initiative the EAUC are hosting a webinar on 28 January, 10:00 – 11:30. 


Further information

The full briefing is available via the COP26 UK Universities Network website.

For further details, contact the Priestley Centre.

Image by Dom Fou on Unsplash