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University of Warwick campus

Two perspectives on climate action at Warwick: Warwick’s shortfalls

When Warwick declared a climate emergency in September 2019, it seemed that they were willing to take climate breakdown seriously. They describe climate change as an “acute global crisis” and state that they will engage in a “bold” series of actions aimed at reducing direct emissions to net-zero by 2030. But when considering the Warwick’s shortfalls when it comes to climate action, we should know better than to trust them on their word.

There are two major climate related failures that need to be acknowledged. It isn’t heavily publicised (in fact it seems that the most recent report is missing from Warwick’s website), but Warwick already had an ambitious emissions plan; a plan established in 2011 which has dramatically failed. While the front-facing side of Warwick has done its best to appear green, with electric Warwick estates vans and water-saving competitions for student accommodations, the university has failed to reduce its emissions over the last decade. That would have been enough to distrust Warwick, but thanks to the student-led research organisation People and Planet we can also see that they have failed to fulfil the divestment promises that they made in 2015. 

In 2011, in collaboration with the Carbon Trust, Warwick embarked on a project to reduce its emissions to 40% of their 2005/6 level by 2020/1. However, by their latest calculations, the emissions predicted for next year are 260% above their goal level. I think that this drastic failure is grounds for doubting the University when it says that it will achieve carbon-zero by 2030, or even 2050. 

To add insult to injury, the university does mention this original target on their climate emergency declaration, but framed in such a way that this total failure seems like a victory. They write that: “We […] have nearly halved the Scope 1 (direct) & Scope 2 (indirect) emissions per unit of income since 2005/6”. The original goal of the Carbon Management Plan of course was not contingent on the income that the University made, and yet by incorporating this excuse into their calculations they attempt to make the plan sound like a success. This shameless media spinning makes me very sceptical of the University’s willingness to enact real positive change. 

Warwick is currently developing plans for future management of emissions . But, personally, I don’t hold out much hope

The failure of Warwick’s carbon management plan was mainly due to the incessant building works that have been happening on campus. For example, the car park on central campus has been knocked down to be replaced by an arts faculty, meaning that a new car park must be built on the Gibbet Hill site. This is just one instance of a totally unnecessary building project; one functional building being knocked down to be replaced by another that already had a functional counterpart (the humanities building). It can be said that Warwick’s campus is unsightly – in fact the humanities building is literally the leading photo for an article on the ugliest university buildings in the UK – but that shouldn’t be a good enough reason to damage the environment and make a mockery of the carbon management project. Even the arts centre is having an environmentally costly face-lift. 

The second major instance of Warwick’s shortfalls in climate action is its poor handling of fossil fuel divestment. In 2015, Warwick promised to completely divest from fossil fuels within two years. They now say that total divestment is financially infeasible. People and Planet has given them a rating of 40% for their ethical investment policy. This unfavourable score is partly because Warwick isn’t excluding indirect fossil fuel investments from their portfolio as they promised, but also because of the total lack of transparency around Warwick’s investments. 

The university has published a Socially Responsible Investment Policy, which doesn’t preclude investments in funds which might invest in fossil fuels, and not much more. They do not publicly list their investments annually, and there is no student representation on the investment committee, so the university cannot be held accountable for its actions.

Warwick is currently developing plans for future management of emissions . But, personally, I don’t hold out much hope that they will be any more successful than its last commitment. This is a university that promised to divest entirely from fossil fuels, but now continues to manage its investments behind closed doors after brushing away its commitment by calling it financially unviable, that uses cheap media-spin tricks to ignore its undeniable failure at its climate commitments. Warwick’s shortfalls in action against climate change have demonstrated that this is not a university that we should trust.

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