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July 2009/27
Policy development

Responses should be e-mailed to HEFCE by Friday 16 October 2009.

Consultation on a carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England

A joint consultation by HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE on developing a carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England.

Outcomes of the consultation (January 2010)

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Of interest to those responsible for: Senior management, Estates, Finance
Reference: 2009/27
Publication date: July 2009
Enquiries to: Joanna Simpson
tel 0117 931 7411

Foreword and executive summary (read online)


Main text and abbreviations

[ Download Consultation on a carbon reduction target and strategy for HE in England - Main text and abbreviations as Adobe PDF 304K | Download Consultation on a carbon reduction target and strategy for HE in England - Main text and abbreviations as MS Word 474K ]

Please note that the following amendment was made on 7 August 2009:
A figure in paragraph 33 was changed. It had been incorrectly calculated in the previously published version.

Annex A: Response form

[ Download Annex A: Response form as MS Word 91K ]

Annex B: Draft good practice guidance

[ Download Annex B: Draft good practice guidance as Adobe PDF 268K | Download Annex B: Draft good practice guidance MS Word 428K ]


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing society today. Evidence shows that the Earth is warming and that human activity is making a significant contribution to this.

Higher education needs to play its part in helping meet UK climate change targets and it is uniquely placed to lead the way. Collectively, the sector influences many thousands of minds through its students and graduates; undertakes world leading research which provides solutions to key challenges; controls a very large estate; and procures billions of pounds' worth of goods and services. Universities have the challenge of finding solutions that people can implement effectively.

The 2006 Stern Review showed that the benefits of strong and early action will far outweigh the economic costs of not acting. Tackling climate change now makes sense. Although this is a consultation on carbon reductions alone, we know that this is just one aspect of sustainable development, albeit a very important one. That is why HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE are working together on this and other initiatives. HEFCE also has an overarching strategy for sustainable development.

We must not underestimate the size of this challenge, nor the financial cost. This will require commitment, creativity and innovation – natural qualities for the higher education sector. There are already many technologies and ways to reduce carbon emissions, but it is not possible to set out precisely how the sector will itself achieve the full reductions that will become possible, simply because some solutions don’t yet exist.

There is a place for ambition and aspiration – a long-term strategy is needed to sit alongside urgent and immediate action. This document aims to set out such a strategy. We hope that all institutions will want to be part of this effort and take opportunities to transfer learning, develop innovative and creative solutions and do what universities have always done – change the way that we think and act.

Professor Patricia Broadfoot
Chair, Universities UK/GuildHE
Sustainable Development Task Group
Vice-Chancellor, University of Gloucestershire

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive, HEFCE

Executive summary


1.   This is a joint consultation between HEFCE, UUK and GuildHE on developing a carbon1 reduction target and strategy for higher education in England.

Key points

2.   The consultation on HEFCE’s 2008 sustainable development strategy and action plan ('Sustainable development in HE – consultation on 2008 update to strategic statement and action plan', HEFCE 2008/182) demonstrated a high level of support (70 per cent) for a higher education carbon reduction strategy.

3. The Climate Change Act 2008 aims to improve carbon management and help the transition towards a low-carbon economy in the UK. It sets the world’s first legally binding reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80 per cent by 2050 and at least 34 per cent by 2020, against a 1990 baseline.

4.   Higher education needs to play its part in meeting national targets for carbon reduction. The grant letters from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to HEFCE of 18 January 2008 and 21 January 2009 contained specific requirements that incorporated the requirements of the Climate Change Act.

5.   Setting targets is essential to identify the size of the challenge, co-ordinate efforts nationally and internationally, and demonstrate commitment to meaningful change. However, targets alone do not achieve results. They need to be supported by a strategy so that the methods by which the targets are to be achieved can be agreed and the necessary actions and investment put in place. The intention of this strategy is to focus efforts in areas that offer the greatest carbon reduction return and identify issues that need further action. It sets out areas where we will work with institutions and other stakeholders to achieve carbon reductions. It will be for individual institutions to decide, within a national set of targets, how to reduce, measure, review and report progress on their own emissions.

6.   HEFCE has already signalled to institutions a more demanding approach to carbon reduction and the need for carbon plans. Its 2008 grant letter from the Secretary of State asked us to establish a link between performance against carbon plans – in effect, carbon reduction – and future capital allocations. HEFCE will achieve this by adapting its Capital Investment Framework.

7.   The objectives of this consultation are to:

  • gain agreement to a sector target(s) to reduce carbon emissions to levels that at least meet government targets
  • seek views on the proposed strategy for supporting carbon emission reductions
  • receive comments on the proposed guidance on developing carbon management plans (see paragraph 85)
  • seek views on HEFCE’s initial thinking for linking capital funding to performance against carbon management plans
  • raise the profile of the sector’s role and increase commitment to developing a carbon reduction culture in higher education.

Action required

8.   Comments are invited on the proposed carbon reduction target, strategy and guidance, using the response form at Annex A. Respondents should complete the electronic version of the form and e-mail it to by Friday 16 October 2009.

9.   As part of the consultation exercise we are holding two consultation seminars. We hope that all institutions will be represented at a senior level at these events. Further details are given in paragraphs 23 and 24. Please register for these events using the online form.


1.   In this document 'carbon' is used as a shorthand for carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

2.   All HEFCE publications can be found on our web-site.