Oxford University’s ambitious environmental sustainability strategy approved

Morgan Sindall Construction Oxford University

Oxford University has approved its Environmental Sustainability Strategy aiming for net zero carbon and biodiversity net gain by 2035.

Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford University Vice-Chancellor, said: “There are innumerable warnings of the impending dangers of climate change and biodiversity loss. We simply must heed them. Doing so will necessarily entail real changes to how we live and work. Just as we have had to adapt to demonstrate our resilience during the pandemic, adapting to the consequences of climate change will require significant, occasionally unwelcome, changes in our daily lives. These inconveniences will be a price well worth paying in order to ensure that we bequeath a healthy planet to future generations.”

The University will establish a new Oxford Sustainability Fund, which makes £200 million available for sustainability initiatives over the next fifteen years.

The Strategy includes two targets to achieve net zero carbon and biodiversity net gain, four enablers and ten priority areas in which the University will take action.

The four enablers to support the Strategy are governance, reporting, funding and offsetting. The ten priority areas are research, curriculum, carbon emissions from energy consumption on the University estate, biodiversity, sustainable food, sustainable resource use, international travel, local travel, investments and learning from the pandemic.

Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity, University of Oxford said: “The University is making a serious commitment to restoring biodiversity both globally and in our own backyard. Biodiversity loss often gets left out of discussions about environmental sustainability, so I’m proud that Oxford has taken a lead.”

Recently, Oxford Strategic Research Fund, which supports major transformative investments in research, awarded the Oxford Net Zero initiative £2.2m to effectively realise the carbon transition. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science and leader of climate research programme Oxford Net Zero, said: ‘We are looking hard at our own strategic business model to ask how it is compatible with net zero emissions. There is a lot we can do, and are doing, to reduce emissions on our estate. However, the elephant in the corner is those emissions that don’t originate in Oxford but occur when we source goods and services, when our academics fly off to meetings, and visitors and students fly in from all over the world. Developing a comprehensive net zero plan as a global university is essential for Oxford to take a lead in sustainability in the higher education sector.’

Eleanor Holton, Action Director at Oxford Climate Society and student at New College, said: “The University’s new net zero Strategy is an enormous milestone in Oxford’s response to the climate and biodiversity emergency, and a tribute to the hard work and collaboration of staff, academics, and students. Now that the University has committed to more ambitious action, it is crucial the Strategy is followed as a priority, and that individual Oxford colleges follow suit in setting net zero targets.”

Ben Farmer, VP Charities and Community at Oxford Student Union, said: “At Oxford SU we’re pleased to have worked on the Strategy every step of the way, ensuring that student voices are represented and at the heart of the vision. Oxford SU’s Student Council, the representative body of all students at the University of Oxford, has voted unanimously to approve and support the Environmental Sustainability Strategy. We believe that the Strategy is an important step forward for the University to take action on the environmental crisis.”

The University is committed to ensuring its investments are part of an integrated approach to achieving carbon net zero and biodiversity net gain by 2035, in line with broader sustainability targets across the University. The Oxford Endowment Fund has been actively managed for over a decade to be part of the solution to sustainability.