Caroline Lucas criticises Durham University’s green policy

By Luke Andrews

In an exclusive interview with Palatinate, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of The Green Party, called upon Durham University to honour its carbon emissions reduction targets, divest from fossil fuels, and live up to its reputation as a world leading institution.

Durham University failed to reach its carbon emissions reduction target for 2014 and is expected to miss its target for 2020. Carbon emissions are likely to rise for the period leading up to 2020, owing to the arrival of an additional 4,000 students.

“I think that is pretty shameful to be honest,” said Caroline in response to the figures.

“Universities should be taking a real lead on this because this is where in effect you’ve got the academic powerhouse, and you’ve got the knowledge.”

These comments came in the wake of fears that Durham University will abandon its 2020 target, of a 43% reduction in carbon emissions against a 2005/6 baseline.

The University describes this target as being “under review,” despite it appearing on the Carbon Management Plan 2 produced by Greenspace.

She also called on Durham University to divest from fossil fuels, in line with the current campaign.

“Please ensure that Durham University is joining others at the forefront of the campaign to divest universities from fossil fuels,” she said in a message to the Vice-Chancellor.

Previously, Durham University has not considered carbon emissions reduction targets a top priority.

The recently constructed Ogden building favoured appearance over sustainability in its design, said Paul Riddlesden, Energy Manager at Durham University.

He described the building as a “box-ticker.”

It is considered a BREEAM excellent, Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment Method, but does little to promote Durham University’s position as a world leader.

Caroline Lucas said she found the Ogden Building “disappointing.”

“It is disappointing when you just get a sense that universities are doing the minimum required to tick the box.”

She also called on Durham University to honour its reputation as a world leading University.

“University’s should be a taking a real lead on this because this is where in effect you’ve got the academic powerhouse, you’ve got the knowledge, you ought to have the political will in the University.”

“If you’re building new buildings on the Estate then why aren’t they making sure that those are the state of the art, best possible, environmentally sound buildings that they’re putting up?”

Responses to why the University has failed to meet its targets include the idea that world leading research produces unavoidable carbon emissions.

“That is 20th century thinking and we need 21st century thinking,” said Caroline.

“The real innovation of the future is going to be about; are you at the cutting edge of technological change?”

Durham University is ranked 64th out of 150 UK universities, and 16th out of 24 Russell Group universities for sustainability by the People & Planet sustainability index. It is behind both Oxford(46th overall) and Cambridge(57th overall). Newcastle University, another Russell Group, is in 8th place overall.

The Green Party regularly puts the University under pressure. Last year, the former leader of The Green Party, Natalie Bennett, sent a letter to Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor, asking the University to divest from fossil fuels. She received no reply.

To round off the interview, Caroline left a message for the Vice-Chancellor and Durham University’s student body:

“I do have a message for the University student body, and particularly the Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge. Please listen to your students. They’ve had a year long campaign, they want the University to divest from fossil fuels. Please listen to them. Please ensure that Durham University is joining others at the forefront of the campaign to divest University’s from fossil fuels.”

Photograph: Jiahe Max Luan

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