Utrecht University aims to be climate-neutral by 2030. Since 2014, the university has published the greenhouse gas emissions caused by its activities every year. In 2020, the total CO2 emissions amounted to 37,306 tonnes. That is much less (-41 per cent) than in 2019, particularly because of the coronavirus pandemic. This measurement year is not representative, and no policy conclusions can be drawn from it. The effects of the coronavirus crisis will also be felt in our emissions in the year 2021. Utrecht University’s low emissions in 2020 are in themselves good news: it is well known that climate change is ultimately about the cumulative amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore, simply put, the fewer emissions, the better.
Our main categories of CO2 emissions are natural gas consumption (45.3 per cent), commuting (7.5 per cent), agriculture (7.8 per cent) and air travel (5.5 per cent). In addition, emissions from fuel production (especially the extraction of natural gas) account for 29.6 per cent of the total. Our emissions from transport fell by more than 70 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, whereas our natural gas consumption fell by a much smaller percentage (15 per cent). Many of the university’s buildings and those of its partners on campus remained open – and thus heated.
CO2-uitstoot per student / medewerker (ton)
In 2020, the university’s own renewable energy sources accounted for 5 per cent of the energy consumed. Combined with wind energy and green gas certificates we purchased, renewable energy accounted for 62.3 per cent of the total energy consumption mix. In 2021, the amount of locally generated renewable energy will increase, as 1,377 solar panels were installed on rooftops in 2020 and the thermal energy storage system grid will be expanded in 2020 and 2021.
Key activities that we undertook to reduce emissions included more solar panels on roofs, an expansion of the thermal energy storage system grid, building insulation, four times more money spent on green gas, and the promotion of remote working and sustainable travel. However, the effect of these interventions does not outweigh the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In the long run, though, these measures will reduce the university’s emissions.
Continued attention to timely property renovation (which will reduce our natural gas consumption), the generation of more sustainable energy and other measures (especially in terms of agriculture and air travel) will be crucial to minimising CO2 emissions in the next ten years. Ultimately, if we wish to successfully combat climate change, we will have to reduce the emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere. Obviously, the sooner Utrecht University sharply reduces its emissions, the less significant these cumulative emissions will be by 2030.