Here's a message sent by Jamie Agombar, the Head of Sustainability at NUS to the EAUC Member list last week. It shows a level of ambition for universities that those responsible for guiding the sector [eg, the Office for Students] have yet to catch up with.
Given all the exciting stuff happening with university carbon targets at the moment, and following a chat with colleagues at Lincoln yesterday, we hatched an idea. In the short to medium term, to meet net zero, there is going to be a need for some offsetting for carbon that cannot otherwise be quickly reduced or stopped, such as international students’ travel. We wonder if there is scope to develop a tree planting scheme for some campuses as a way to offset the carbon and restore UK biodiversity. I know quite a few universities, like Lancaster, Surrey, Keele, have big tracts of land that are routinely rented out to farmers, the is potential for these to become a wonderful university forest of native trees, managed for biodiversity and recreation, planted by students. It might be that the carbon offsetting payments can cover the lost lease payments from farmers. There is also the chance to work with a large land owner like the RSPB or Woodland Trust on their land. We might be able to make it a gold standard accredited offset scheme somehow if we do it nationally.
The second idea relates to repurposing uni endowments away from shares in transnational corporations to new owned renewable assets through a uni-specific investment fund. Our divest-invest campaign, with P&P, has led to a half of all universities agreeing to divest from fossil fuel companies, but many universities have just divested from a pot of shares with fossil feels in it to reinvest in a new pot without them, but still the likes of BA, Tesco, Amazon, etc. Clearly that is not progressive re the climate emergency, and we may end up eternally running divestment campaigns on various issues unless something changes. Our FoIs a few years back showed that £3bn of UK university endowments in listed equities, that would be a lot of new renewables! A uni-specific investment fund would allow universities to transfer their money out of pots of listed equities to direct investments in new owned renewables. This will help to build the new renewables we urgently need, give a decent return on investment comparable to shares (~6-8%), and provide alumni teams with something new and interesting to fund by way of adding new money to endowments. It may, or may not, give universities carbon credits from the electricity generated, still to figure that one out. Thanks to those of you who have helped shape this idea so far. NUS has developed, with Foresight, a renewables investment company, a concept note for an initial £100m fund.
Happily, NUS is engaging with the Office for Students to help them regain the level of commitment to sustainability that HEFCE once had, and to nudge the Office into a much needed leadership role. Though it might need more of a shove ...