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Oxford is third highest CO2 emitter of all UK Universities, says new study.

The University of Oxford has the third largest carbon footprint of all universities in the United Kingdom, according to a new study by Utility Bidder. Their calculations reveal that Oxford University emits an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of carbon for every 1,000 students, the third highest of any institution. It is outranked only by Imperial College London and Cranfield University.

By plotting the data of the total carbon emissions against the total number of students, Utility Bidder was able to build a scale that ranked each university’s carbon footprint proportional to the size of their student population. Utility Bidder also broke down the rankings into sub-fields of carbon emissions, which revealed that Oxford University was also in the top three biggest emitters of carbon related to business travel.

Oxford Brookes University, although not in the top ten for total carbon emissions, produced more waste-related carbon emissions than any other university in the United Kingdom.

These figures do not reflect the initiatives that have already been put in place to curb emissions. Under the Environmental Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, Oxford University has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035, reducing emissions by more than a quarter of a million tonnes each year. Oxford Brookes University, in an effort to reduce its high ‘waste’ emissions, has devised a reduction strategy that aims, amongst other things, to achieve a ninety-percent recycling rate.

A spokesperson from Oxford University told Cherwell: ‘The University takes its environmental responsibility seriously and is committed to reaching net zero carbon and biodiversity net gain by 2035. In order to achieve these goals, the University has established the Oxford Sustainability Fund with an income of more than £5m a year and a revolving capital investment fund of £50m.  The University’s carbon emissions have been on a downwards trend since 2010, despite a large expansion in the size of the University estate, partly driven by the installation of over 2,000 solar panels, combined heat and power (CHP) and ground source heat pumps. 

‘Sustainable principles are incorporated into the design of all new buildings, and we are working to reduce the environmental impact of our activities further, for example collaborating with laboratories across the University to reduce their energy use and emissions by replacing old, inefficient equipment.”

Oxford Student Union argues that Oxford University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy does not cover colleges because of the federal system. There are some issues where the gap between university policy and college policy is significant. In the matter of fossil fuel divestment, for instance, the university has committed to moving its investments out of fossil fuel companies, but many colleges have not followed suit.

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