Aberdeen 2040 - progress on environmental sustainability

Message from Karl Leydecker, Senior Vice-Principal

Dear Staff and Postgraduate Researchers

As part of our Aberdeen 2040 Strategy, we have made a clear commitment to show leadership in working for the sustainable future of our planet.

With COP26 only a matter of weeks away, and with many of our staff and students either directly or indirectly involved, I would like to update you on our own progress and ambitions in relation to environmental sustainability, which is being co-ordinated through our Sustainable Development Committee in line with our Aberdeen 2040 commitments.

Actions and ambitions

Institutionally, we have made a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2040. We have already seen a 34% reduction in recorded emissions associated with our energy use in our recent five-year Carbon Management Planning period but there is much to do to deliver our net zero commitment, and we are in the process of transitioning from a series of rolling five-year plans to a longer-term net-zero strategy.

Other actions that are currently being taken or considered by the Committee include:

  • the establishment of a Project Board that will consider the future heating strategy for the Aberdeen campuses
  • the provision of electric vehicle charging points on campus
  • the establishment of a Sustainable Business Travel Working Group to ensure essential travel is undertaken sustainably
  • the possibility of engaging the whole University community in sustainability matters via a University of Aberdeen Climate Assembly

Looking to our work with regional partners, we are pressing ahead with discussions on issues such as the decarbonisation of heat, and collaborative approaches to heat networks. Although at an exploratory stage, we are encouraged by a real desire to pursue collective solutions to the challenges of tackling the ageing heating infrastructure at our Old Aberdeen and Hillhead campuses, with the latter being supported by a £4m interest-free loan from the Scottish Funding Council.

Divestment and COP26

This week, the University Court approved a commitment to financial divestment from fossil fuels by 2025. We have worked alongside the student community in the development of this policy, which makes clear our intention to work with the energy sector as part of a just transition to a greener, more sustainable future. We continue to value our industrial partnerships and the benefits they bring to our students and research activities, and we will continue to invest in energy companies that are leading the process of energy transition.

In addition, by 2025 we will seek to invest at least 5% of our investment portfolio in an impact and thematic investing programme which will invest directly or through pooled funds in businesses and sectors aiming to deliver an environmental, social and financial return across a range of sustainability themes. You can find further details on our divestment plans, including a range of FAQs, here.

I have already mentioned COP26, and I am pleased that so many of our staff and students are actively engaged in our Road to COP26 activities, including as observers at the event itself following our call for applications. Institutionally we have made efforts to involve our community and the wider communities we serve as much as possible in proceedings. Planned activities include a ‘Mock COP’ event involving local schools, a ‘Hack the COP’ event for students, and a time capsule that will be placed in the Cruickshank Garden until 2040 and hold, among other items, messages from local schoolchildren about their hopes for the environment.

Research and impact

Academically, we are world leaders in climate science and the energy transition, and it is important that the University is, and remains, visible in discussions around the sustainable future of our planet. The strength of our academic and institutional sustainability activities is reflected in the most recent Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, where we were ranked among the top 60 universities in the world in terms of our positive impact on society, based on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We were also ranked in the top 20 in the UK across all 17 SDGs.

It is because of our strong performance in the Impact Rankings that the University has now been shortlisted in the Times Higher Education Data Points Merit Award 2021, which in recognition of COP26, has measured how UK and Irish universities are performing in relation to practices such as energy efficiency, sustainability, environmental education and net-zero carbon commitments. The shortlisted institutions have been described as ‘leading the way’ in these practices, which in itself is an endorsement of our activities. The overall winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on 25 November.

Our research activities have been given renewed impetus through the launch of our Centre for Energy Transition in May. With the identification of key research areas and academic champions across a range of related disciplines, the Centre exists to facilitate genuine interdisciplinary research and collaborations. The launch just last week of our marine simulation suite, that will transform approaches to offshore decommissioning and renewable energy infrastructure projects in the North Sea, is just one recent example of how we are working to support the energy transition through our research expertise. In addition, Professor Pete Smith’s involvement in a new group of international
experts who will advise the Scottish Government on environmental issues, and will present their plans in a report at COP26, underlines how our experts are continuing to shape the climate debate.

Investment in ideas to support Aberdeen 2040

This week, the University Court approved the Aberdeen 2040 Implementation Plan to 2025. To support us in taking forward this ambitious agenda, funds have been ring-fenced to support the development of ideas around the four Strategic Themes of Aberdeen 2040: Inclusive Interdisciplinary, International and Sustainable. We want to ensure that our work on the themes is visible and broad-based, and that colleagues across the University can get involved.

Therefore, we will soon issue a call to our community, inviting staff and students to propose potential initiatives covering the four themes. In the case of sustainability, examples might be suggesting energy reduction interventions in the fabric of our buildings or identifying energy intensive equipment in our estate that we need to upgrade or operate differently. I would encourage you to be ambitious in your suggestions – as a University we are striving to be leaders in sustainability, and it is important that we maximise the impact of this funding.

If you have a particular interest in getting involved in our work around sustainability, or thoughts on the work of the Sustainable Development Committee in general, please contact either myself or Heather Crabb, Committee clerk.

Best wishes,

Karl

Karl Leydecker
Senior Vice-Principal

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