27 January 2021

Sheffield sustainability expert contributes to carbon offsetting report

Reducing emissions must be the priority for UK universities but carbon offsetting can also support the transition to net-zero, according to a briefing by experts from the COP26 Universities Network.

Campus looking green
  • Carbon offsetting can help universities transition to net-zero emissions, according to a new briefing by the COP26 Universities Network
  • The COP26 Network is made up of more than 50 UK universities and includes academic experts from the University of Sheffield
  • The network is working together to raise the ambition for tangible outcomes of the UN COP26 Climate Summit later this year

Reducing emissions must be the priority for UK universities but carbon offsetting can also support the transition to net-zero, according to a briefing by experts from the COP26 Universities Network.

Co-Director of the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, Dr Rachael Rothman, contributed to the new briefing which 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.

The University of Sheffield is actively engaging with the higher education sector to inspire climate action. We will be applying the lessons of this briefing to our own activity in our journey to net-zero on campus by 2030 and across all of our activities by 2038.

Dr Rachael Rothman

Academic Lead for Sustainability at the University of Sheffield

Dr Rachael Rothman, Co-Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and Academic Lead for Sustainability at the University of Sheffield, said: “As a sector, we have a responsibility to tackle the climate emergency. Carbon offsetting, as this report demonstrates, must not replace emissions reductions but can compliment these actions and help universities and colleges reach net-zero.

“The University of Sheffield is actively engaging with the higher education sector to inspire climate action. We will be applying the lessons of this briefing to our own activity in our journey to net-zero on campus by 2030 and across all of our activities by 2038.”

The COP26 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.

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.”

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 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

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.”

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