Greenhouse gas emissions from University’s business travel double in past year

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Durham University’s financial report for the year ending July 2023 reported an increase in gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2022/23 compared to 2021/22, including the doubling of emissions related to staff business travel.

This increase was partly due to the doubling of Scope 3 emissions from 1,343 tCO2e (metric tonnes of greenhouse gases expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2021/22 to 2,758 in 2022/23. Scope 3 emissions cover staff business travel, commuting, waste management, and water use.

Despite this, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions still falls within the University’s target to decrease emissions relating to business travel, as outlined in the Sustainability Ambition Statement.

In total in 2022/23, Durham University produced 24,040 tCO2e, an increase from 22,736 tCO2e in 2021/22. The University splits its carbon emissions into Scopes 1, 2, and 3 – Scope 1 emissions, which include gas consumption, owned transport, fuel, and F-Gas, was the only category to see a decrease in tCO2e in 2022/23. Scope 2 emissions refer to purchased electricity.

The increase in Scope 3 emissions includes a 120% increase in emissions relating to air travel, which increased from 1074 tCO2e to 2376. This covers domestic air travel, short haul air travel, and long haul air travel. The report records that emissions produced by short haul air travel have tripled from 2021/22 to 2022/23.

Similarly, emissions relating to rail travel were 3.9x greater than in 2021/22 whilst emissions relating to employees using their own cars for business travel have increased by 50%.

This comes in light of many conferences returning following the Covid-19 pandemic: the UK Conference and Meeting Survey (UKCAMS) found that there were 2.3x as many conferences and meetings in 2022 than in 2021.

In response to this, a spokesperson from Durham University said, “We encourage sustainable travel wherever possible and our business travel emissions remain below the pre-Covid baseline level.”

During 2020/21, greenhouse gas emissions relating to business travel plummeted to 143 tCO2e, 0.6% of total emissions for that year. In 2022/23, emissions relating to business travel accounted for 10.7% of the University’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Durham University’s Sustainability Strategy commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve Net Zero by 2035. Within this, the University plans to reduce Scope 3 emissions by 40%.

Prior to this, Durham University had reported a 75% reduction in carbon emissions relating to business travel between 2005/06 and 2021/22.

A spokesperson from Durham University said, “Between 2005/06 and 2020/21, we reduced our carbon footprint by 40.2%. We are encouraging further change and remain committed to our ambitious targets of achieving net zero by 2035 and biodiversity net gain by 2032.”

“Between 2005/06 and 2020/21, we reduced our carbon footprint by 40.2%”

Durham University

In response to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, Rosie Semlyen, Co-Head Facilitator of EcoDU, shared her reaction to the data with Palatinate: “It’s shocking to see how much emissions have risen as we have emerged from the pandemic. This is not good enough. Domestic and short-haul air travel is absolutely unacceptable given the rail options available. 

“As an institution that has committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2035, Durham urgently needs to do more to bring down their carbon footprint. This involves reducing business travel, promoting eco-friendly options when travel is absolutely necessary, and setting a precedent that inspires broader societal shifts towards low-carbon transportation.”

In addition to this, a spokesperson from the University told Palatinate that, “We are currently developing a Business Travel Policy that will help us achieve a 40% reduction in business travel emissions by 2035.” 

The current Sustainability Ambition Statement commits to reducing Scope 3 emissions relating to business travel and commuting by 40% by 2035 compared to levels in 2018/19. This goal requires that the University keep yearly business travel emissions below 3,042 tCO2e, which means that the 2022/23 report maintains this commitment. 

The University has also developed an Integrated Sustainable Travel Plan for 2020-25 which aims to “reduce the carbon emissions arising from all transport connected to Durham University: journeys to work, business travel, and supply chain delivery.”

“Durham is recognised as one of the most environmentally sustainable universities in the world – we rank 19th globally (fifth in the UK) in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability 2024,” the spokesperson said.

Image: Shadow Lau

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