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Sustainable futures

COP26: bats, buildings and our climate pledge

Hosting COP26 in the UK is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, it comes at a time when climate change is clearly happening all around us.

From the record-breaking “heat dome” and ensuing wildfires in the Pacific north-west to catastrophic flooding in Europe and China and rainfall-induced landslides in India, extreme weather has hit the headlines in 2021.

Our world leaders, who will be at COP26 in Glasgow, need to ensure we manage the increase in global warming in line with the Paris Agreement – the legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Secondly, it’s an opportunity for the UK to show leadership on these policies. We have made good progress in decarbonising the UK electricity grid, with coal and gas being increasingly replaced by wind and solar over the past five years. I hope COP26 gives the UK Government the impetus to announce new, longer-term plans for how it will tackle emissions from some of our biggest sectors – food, aviation, construction, ground transport and buildings. These are all areas that the university has research expertise in, whilst also contributing significantly to our own carbon footprint.

Thirdly, we need to show leadership too. We can’t wait for the G7 or the British Government. There are things we can simply get on with now. The university can make a big contribution to emissions reduction locally, nationally and internationally. This is both in terms of what we’re here for – teaching and research – as well as how we operate. After all, it’s our graduates who will leave Nottingham, Ningbo and Semenyih and become the leaders of tomorrow and it’s our research that will inform future policy and practice.

As a university, we’ve committed to reducing our carbon emissions and showing leadership. That’s going to require policy changes, behaviour change and investment in our infrastructure.

Did you know:

  • In 2019, the university published its strategy which stated: We will place a special emphasis on environmental sustainability, supporting the city of Nottingham's desire to be a net zero carbon city by 2028 and working with partners in China and Malaysia to improve sustainability within their regions.
  • Around 80% of our total annual carbon emissions are indirect emissions associated with goods and services that we buy – things like food, paper products, business travel and construction material.
  • Gas and electricity consumption on our campuses in the UK equates to around 40,000t/year, but the other emissions associated with our supply chain are around 160,000t/year.
  • We actively promote biodiversity on our campuses – we’re now recognised as a Hedgehog Friendly Campus.
  • Higher up, we have more than 10 green roofs across our buildings on University Park and Jubilee campuses. These help reduce rainwater runoff and flooding as well as create environments for butterflies, bees, bats and birds to thrive.
  • We have seven species of bat living in different habitats across our campuses. You can discover the amazing wildlife in urban green spaces around the University of Nottingham with Wild Campus - the first photo book to capture the remarkable range of wildlife seen around University Park campusand adjoining Highfields Park.

Without doubt, the challenge of climate change is here right in front of us and we need to respond. We need to:

  1. Reduce our contribution to the problem by reducing the amount of energy from fossil fuels (especially gas).
  2. Preparing our campuses and supply chains to be more resilient to future climate change.

What this means for me, the university and for you

Change is possible when we all work together. We need everyone to play their part in reducing our carbon emissions, from turning off PC screens, closing windows and only boiling the water you need for your morning coffee, to the choices that have a bigger impact, such as the food you eat and the amount of travelling you do (especially air travel). You really can make a difference and reducing the energy you consume is crucial for our success.

To help you, we’ve put increased emphasis on communication, engagement and action across our staff and students – with the go! campaign and Green Rewards App already live – and we’re planning a high profile campaign around COP26.

We’re also showcasing the excellent research the university is undertaking to tackle climate change.

In parallel, we’re developing strategies to lessen our environmental impact – changing policies and standards in construction and design (and a much greater emphasis on refurbishment of existing buildings) and introducing a new catering strategy with a greater emphasis on sustainability.

We’ll be continuing to consult with faculties and professional services on how we can reduce our carbon emissions from business travel with a series of town hall style roadshows – we know that air travel, in particular, is a significant contributor to our overall emissions.

Later this year, we’ll publish a new carbon management plan that will set out the investment and changes we will need to make to achieve our carbon reduction targets. This will include investment in our buildings – making them more energy efficient – as well as investment in on-campus energy generation and our heating networks on University Park and Sutton Bonington.

If we’re going to reduce the carbon impact of our estate, we need to improve glazing and the wider building envelope – walls, roofs and doors as well as the systems that keep the buildings warm or cool. I want to see more renewable energy generated on campus and to invest in walking, cycling and public transport as well things like electric vehicle charging points.

Our campuses are a significant factor in attracting and retaining the very best students and staff. Through 2021 we’ve been creating campus plans for each of our campuses and we know they will need to evolve to account for further climate change. Our future will have, generally, warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers and we need to ensure our buildings and the wider campus can cope. For that reason, we’ll be creating more green spaces to alleviate flood risk and reduce heat absorption. This will give us the opportunity to introduce new habitats and greater biodiversity. Not only will the campuses benefit from greater resilience, they’ll look and feel better too.

Tackling this in a joined up way, through what we teach, what we research and how we operate gives us the best opportunity to make a real difference. We’d love you to be involved – visit our website at for more information.

Andy Nolan

Andy Nolan is Director of Development & Sustainability at the University of Nottingham

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