Reflections on the latest EMR data

1st September 2021

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has released the latest Estates Management Record (EMR) on 19th August.

These environment statistics are some of the most useful and telling when it comes to assessing where the Higher Education sector is with sustainable development and emissions reduction. The open data publication HE Provider Data: Estates Management includes the area of universities’ buildings and grounds, renewable energy generation, water consumption, emissions, waste, recycling, transport, and environmental management.

EAUC continue to be vocal in the concern about the EMR data losing its mandate for English and Northern Irish institutions, and we were keen to see if this would make a difference in the number of institutions that submitted EMR data this year - the second without the mandate.  We understand that circumstances have not been ideal for institutions over the past 12 months, but are nonetheless disappointed to see that many more have opted out of the now voluntary EMR data reporting (160 reported in the 2017/2018 period and only 130 reported in the 2019/2020 period). The total generated emissions year on year increase, but as fewer are reporting, it is impossible to see the complete picture, unless there are ways to compare each institution. We risk losing  a consistent sector-wide reporting mechanism at our peril.

From the data provided we understand that FE and HE providers who submitted environmental information for 2019/20 consumed a total of 6.6 Terawatt hours of energy during the year – a reduction of 7% on the previous year for the same group of providers. A breakdown of energy consumption shows an 8% decrease in non-residential consumption and a 1% increase in residential consumption. This difference may reflect impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic which forced students to remain in residences and away from teaching facilities for long periods during the academic year.

Over the same period of August 2019 to July 2020 scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions fell by 10% for HE providers who opted to submit data. The total of these emissions for the year stood at 1.4 million tonnes, down from 1.6 million tonnes in 2018/19. Over the last five years carbon emissions have fallen by 27% from 1.9 million tonnes in 2015/16.1 million tonnes.

*From 2019/20, the Estates Management Record (EMR) return is a statutory requirement for HE providers in Wales but is optional for HE providers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC said:

"The small scale of emissions reduction at a time when many buildings had been closed due to the Covid-19 imposed is shockingly low. It suggests that much more is to be done to reduce building base loads.

"We believe the EMR should be mandated and is due an update. The emission profile of institutions is now very complex and the current reporting requirements only include a limited number of emission categories. Our upcoming sector Emissions Reporting Alignment Project is very much looking to address that and to ensure institutions’ reductions are actually in line with the 1.5 °C Paris Agreement. This will be further advanced by our pioneering Science-Based Target Framework which we will start to develop soon.

We are concerned some institutions have opted not to continue reporting as that has made it harder to monitor trends. They made a modest saving but the cost to the wider sector is huge. We reinforce how important is to see the HESA data expanded to include a more comprehensive set of emissions sources for the sector. We believe the data requirements should be thoroughly reviewed and input from the wider sector is necessary to ensure that results are durable and capable of attracting broad support."

More about the EAUC’s Advancing Sector Emission’s Alignment’ and Science-Based Targets Programme

EAUC  Advancing Sector Emission’s Alignment’ Programme - Starting September 2021.

The profile of universities and colleges committing to emissions reduction and net-zero has never been higher. While this is very encouraging, it highlights the inconsistent approach to scope setting, measurement and reporting across our sector. Not only does this impede institution comparison and collective progress, but we at EAUC see it as a risk to sector credibility and reputation.

The programme will address this risk by compiling examples of good practices that will enable the sector to develop a common reporting approach that supports several GHG reporting requirements and climate commitments. It will also provide a framework to enable peer and/or student verification of GHG inventories, carbon abatement/offsetting targets and neutrality claims.

Science-Basted Target Setting Guidance and Verification Framework

Starting in November 2021, EAUC will work with our members to develop guidance and verification processes to ensure universities and colleges can set Science-Based Targets (SBTs) to track and report their progress in reducing emissions.

No education methodology exists so our objective it to develop one appropriate to further and higher education. EAUC’s work will ensure institutions are applying the SBT methodology consistently, have a framework against which to reference standards, best practice, reporting and a route to verification.

  1. Carbon emission figures relate to Scope 1 and 2 emissions excluding emissions from supply chain, transport and waste. Scope 3 emissions figures are included separately in the Environmental information statistics tables for most HE providers.
  2. See Definitions: Estates management for full definitions of terms used in the release and explanation of the coverage of statistics.
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