St John’s College Cambridge commits to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

These commitments include a policy of divestment in all meaningful indirect fossil fuel investments by 2030

St John’s College has launched a series of climate crisis commitments to help the College reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This “manifesto for change” has been launched by the Master of the College, Heather Hancock, and will be “embedded in every aspect of life” at St John’s, according to an article on the College’s website.

St John’s has also adopted a policy of divestment in all meaningful indirect fossil fuels investments by 2030, following the College’s divestment from all direct fossil fuel investments in 2013.

The College has committed to a target of halving scope one and two emissions by the end of the decade. Scope one emissions are direct emissions generated onsite, such as gas burnt in College boilers, and scope two emissions are purchased electricity and heat.

To achieve this, the College has “decided to prioritise” reducing energy consumption, specifically when it comes to gas. They have said they will need to “improve energy efficiency in the College buildings” – some of which are more than 500 years old – to meet its target.

A detailed multi-million pound financial plan is now being drawn up to ensure St John’s can deliver these required improvements to College buildings “without disrupting education and research.” These improvements could include replacing windows, changing boilers and installing better insulation. The College has said that water consumption will also be “closely scrutinised.”

As part of the manifesto, St John’s has also said it will aim for “exemplary zero-carbon standards for any new operational buildings.” The College has said that in doing so, they are “working through a masterplan” to “improve the student experience” and “repurpose existing buildings to future proof activity on its main site.”

The Master has said that the College’s climate emergency commitments have the “widespread support of the Fellowship.”

Heather Hancock commented further on the College’s manifesto: “Our headline commitment on reducing emissions to zero by 2050 is a powerful statement.  We’ve now made a bold move towards delivering that commitment, setting targets and deciding where to focus, to have the greatest impact within a decade.

“We are building the data and evidence base to underpin our programme, and developing a nine-year plan to deliver an ambitious carbon reduction target.  It will be a stretch, and it requires the College to keep focused on the big picture. But challenging ourselves is the right thing to do if we genuinely want to make a difference and make it soon.”

She elaborated further on the “urgency” of dealing with climate change: “Addressing the climate emergency affects every element of our individual and collective lives. There is no trade-off between academic progress and climate change. We want St John’s to have another 500 years of supporting world-leading learning and research.  That means playing a full and active part in dealing, now, with the potentially catastrophic issue of climate change. ”

“At St John’s we have decided to focus our efforts and resources on the big, demanding changes where we can see the greatest return. We are attaching a sense of urgency to making headway on our longer term commitments, and we are determined to ‘do’ rather than just discuss what ought to be done.”

The Master emphasised the need for “Collegiate Cambridge and the city” to “work together”: “St John’s has extraordinarily talented academics working to help the world get its response to climate change right.  That’s the biggest difference the College can make at the global level.

“Collegiate Cambridge and the city also need to work together on collective solutions for some obstacles we all face – such as getting enough electricity into the centre of Cambridge to replace the high levels of gas consumption currently needed for heating. Finding the right renewable energy solution is essential if we want to reduce emissions across a large part of our main site.”

She added finally: “There is no compromise where climate change is concerned. This is something we have to do because the global emergency cannot be ignored – it is the defining issue of our time.”

These long-term commitments have been pledged in addition to the College’s announcements in 2020, of both their ambitions to tackle the climate crisis, and their statement on their day-to-day sustainability activities.

The University of Cambridge named St John’s as one of the Gold winners of the annual Green Impact Awards last year for its debut entry. The College has said that they now intend to work towards Platinum status.

The Master, who herself studied at St John’s, spent more than two decades in senior leadership in the private and public sectors before being elected as Head of House at St John’s. She first worked on climate change alleviation more than 20 years ago when she led the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Feature image credit: Punting Cambridge, Creative Commons License