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Net Zero

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Karen Watt, SFC Chief ExecutiveFollowing its declaration of a climate emergency in 2019, the Scottish Government has set an ambitious target to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2045.

The transition to a net zero nation has major implications. It will shape the development of the future Scottish economy, change the way businesses and institutions think and work, and transform the lives of Scotland’s people.

Scotland’s colleges and universities already make significant contributions to sustainability and climate action, and they each have their own aspirations for environmental sustainability.

The Scottish Funding Council is committed to helping institutions achieve their own goals for climate change. Overarching this, at a national level we will hard-wire climate action and a fair transition to net zero into our own strategies, investments and framework for accountability. In order to accelerate change we will use our ability to bring people together to agree common courses of action. Our Net Zero & Sustainability Framework for Action sets out our long-term plan, demonstrating our full commitment to responding to the climate emergency and reflecting improved corporate accountability and collective responsibility.

We will work with our stakeholders, the Scottish Government and industry to accelerate climate action. Together, and driven by the transformational capabilities of Scotland’s colleges and universities, we can help create a prosperous, low-carbon future for Scotland and the world.

– Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council

Sustainability leadership

At the Scottish Funding Council we reduced our own emissions by over 70 per cent between 2007-2008 and 2017-2018. In the sector, we will continue to support and encourage colleges and universities to commit to meeting both the Scottish Government’s climate targets agus UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We published our strategic net zero route map in November 2022, SFC’s Net Zero & Sustainability Framework for Action [PDF]. Our latest carbon management plan, our Net Zero Challenge [PDF], commits us to continue reducing our own emissions and embedding climate-positive practices throughout our activities and operations.

Scotland's colleges and universities

Scotland’s colleges are implementing measures from their Statement of Commitment to the Climate Emergency, including integrating greater learning for sustainability in all taught areas, cutting emissions and embedding the climate response throughout their organisations, with a collective net zero target of 2040.

Universities are committed to similar institution-wide action, including driving net zero research and innovation fields with a collective target for Scottish universities of 2045 under this UK framework.

Institutions report against Scottish Government requirements for carbon reporting across the three scope groups included under the national statutory guidance.

Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC)

EAUC is a force for sustainability which exists to inspire and enable students, staff and leaders. Primarily funded in Scotland by SFC, EAUC focuses on leadership for the climate emergency, advice and guidance and best practice sharing by institutions on key topics such as energy, learning for sustainability and other areas under discussion.

Green Gown Awards

We also sponsored one of the categories in the 2023 Green Gown Awards showcasing those leading and transforming the sector for net zero and sustainability.

Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges

Our funding for APUC is assisting institutions to pivot to sustainable supply chains and procurement.

Outcome Agreements

Scottish Funding Council outcome agreements set out our expectations for colleges, universities and specialist institutions to demonstrate leadership and a whole-institutional approach to achieving environmental sustainability. SFC has committed to new accountability and assurance mechanisms flowing from our Review in 2020-2021.

Research and Innovation

Scotland’s legacy from hosting COP26 in 2021 was evident during COP 27 and COP 15 last year and will continue to evolve and grow at COP28 this year. At COP26 Scotland showcased a range of research and innovation examples supported by the world leading activity of Scottish institutions as highlighted in our Net Zero & Sustainability Framework for Action [PDF].

Our funding for research and innovation supports environmental sustainability and net zero early mover advantage through the development of expertise in colleges and universities aimed at reducing carbon emissions and progressing technologies to reduce emissions and safeguard the environment. There is a clear link from that expertise into key policy agendas of domestic and global significance including, but not limited to, SDG 13 on climate change. Our investments benefit the whole pipeline from discovery driven research to multidisciplinary and applied challenges and innovation outcomes.

Skills for the Climate Emergency

SFC is working with Skills Development Scotland to implement the Scottish Government’s Climate Emergency Skills action plan, including through the Implementation Steering Group and Subgroups. We are actively working with colleges, universities and industry to ensure the post-school education sector can respond to emerging and future skills needs in support of a green recovery. The focus is on the key actions needed over the next period to 2025.

Our long standing core funding for the Energy Skills Partnership assists them to work with colleges and other partners in ensuring that colleges are ready to seize the opportunities associated with building green skills supply chains in Scotland across energy, transport, construction and other areas.

Through the administration of the Scottish Government’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund and the National Transition Training Fund we have progressed work supporting the transition to new green jobs.

Pathfinder Initiatives

SFC is engaged with partners in different parts of Scotland investigating, through our Pathfinder pilot projects, the alignment of course provision, learner choice and employer need, in order to enhance agility and responsiveness in the skills system. This includes curriculum planning in colleges and universities and the ways in which SFC supports provision planning in the sector. One of the pilot projects is the Energy Skills Interactive Pathway led by the National Energy Skills Accelerator (NESA).

Capital and Climate Change

The Scottish Funding Council’s Financial Transactions programme has supported a wide range of estates and climate change projects at universities since 2017.

We launched our College Infrastructure Strategy in November 2022. We worked with the college sector to map out a national approach for developing a plan to guide future investments in college buildings and infrastructure.

More broadly, we are prioritising and implementing carbon reduction capital investment programmes to meet the Climate Change Act targets.

SFC’s  also works on our strategies for responding to the requirements of the Climate Change Act, including helping universities and colleges to reduce their carbon footprints and secure investment in research and innovation for the low carbon economy.

We aim to:

  • Develop and implement the Council’s strategies for responding to the requirements of the Climate Change Act, including supporting universities and colleges to reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Develop and implement the Council’s capital funding strategies for the university and college sectors to secure effective and sustainable spaces for learning, research and innovation.
  • Work with colleges and universities to help them secure investment in research and innovation in the low carbon industries.
  • Continue to drive forward the Council’s environmental sustainability work across both sectors.

SFC Strategic Plan 2022-27

Building a connected, agile, sustainable tertiary education and research system for Scotland.

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