What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint can be defined as a measure of the greenhouse gas emissions that an entity is directly and indirectly responsible for, expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents and measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).
Why is reporting carbon emissions important for UCT
The Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to “pursue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5°C, to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Amongst 195 countries, South Africa has made commitments in terms of the agreement and submitted its first nationally determined contribution (NDC), with an updated NDC being prepared ahead of COP26 in November 2021.
“UCT has made several international and internal policy commitments to environmental sustainability since 1990 and has done well to measure and report on its annual carbon footprint over the last decade.”
The IPCC’s most recent report, the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), based on observed evidence of warming trends, cautions that global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios and that global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless “deep reductions” in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades (IPCC, 2021).
UCT has made several international and internal policy commitments to environmental sustainability since 1990 and has done well to measure and report on its annual carbon footprint over the last decade. The recent UCT Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2020 aims to reduce energy consumption from fossil fuels to zero and carbon emissions to a net-zero state by 2050 or sooner. This will require approximately 2–5% reductions annually off a 2020 baseline. These annual targets will require complete commitment from all stakeholders, especially UCT leadership.
Eskom Electricity grid emission factor
The Eskom electricity grid emission factor for this report has decreased from 1.06 to 1.04 tCO2e (a 1.9% reduction). Since electricity related emissions comprise over 67% of total emissions, this change has a major influence on UCT’s carbon footprint.
Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions contributed 73 417 tCO2e, a decrease of -2.8% from 2018. The population increased by 0.2% in this period, while the floor area increased only slightly by 0.6%.
The total emissions of all scopes are 103 903 tCO2e compared with 103 121 tCO2e reported in 2016 (the last report that also included scope 3 emissions), representing an increase of 0.76% while the UCT population has increased by 2.2%and floor area by -4.6% between 2016 and 2019.
Scope 1 emissions decreased by -1.7% in 2019.
Scope 2 emissions from purchased electricity decreased by -2.7%, understood to be due, at least in part, to extensive load shedding as well as the decrease of -1.9% in the electricity grid emission factor. In absolute terms, electricity consumed in kilowatt hours decreased by -0.8% compared to 2018. Compared to the baseline year 2012, electricity consumption decreased by -2.5%, with a concomitant increase in population of 16.9%, a positive result.
Scope 3 emissions were last reported in 2016 therefore all results in this category are compared with 2016.
For Scope 3 emissions overall, there was a decrease of -6% while the UCT population increased by 2.2% since 2016.
The largest changes in emissions are a decrease in electricity consumption for main and medical campuses; an increase in electricity consumption for the GSB campus; and a decrease in food supply emissions.
Emissions per square metre decreased by -3.2% to 0.108 tCO2e per square metre per annum, with the total building area that increased slightly by 0.6%. This is due to the decrease in scope 2 emissions and to the decrease in the electricity grid emission factor.
The per capita emissions increased by 4.9% from 2.11 tCO2e to 2.22 tCO2e, due to the decrease in population of -7.2%.
“The net zero carbon emissions target and annual reduction in the total emissions for scope 1 and 2 is the most important indicator for UCT to track its performance.”
The energy intensity per capita has increased from 1 894 kWh to 2 024 kWh per capita per annum or 6.8%, again due to the decrease in population.
In future, the net zero carbon emissions target and annual reduction in the total emissions for scope 1 and 2 is the most important indicator for UCT to track its performance.
Similar challenges were experienced with data gathering and data quality issues, with delays exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown requiring staff to work remotely.
Mitigation of emissions
The most critical actions are to enhance energy efficiency specifically lighting, ventilation and air conditioning; installing renewable energy in the form of solar PV systems; and targeting lower GWP refrigerants.
The total of Scope 1 and 2 emissions decreased by -2.8% compared to 2018; however, this may be largely due to load shedding and the lower Eskom emission factor.
A critical finding in the results is the increase in use of the refrigerant R22 that must be phased out in terms of the Montreal Protocol. Procurement of alternative refrigerants with lower global warming potential, requires urgent attention.
For Scope 2 emissions from electricity, measurement via digital meters is fairly robust and stable, and the gradual decline in consumption since 2016 is encouraging. With the implementation of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy installations, it might be possible to meet annual reduction targets set to achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2050.
“UCT must now focus on how to achieve strong and rapid reductions in its emissions, through urgent action planning, implementation, and reporting on progress against its new net-zero targets.”
The reintroduction of reporting on Scope 3 emissions is an improvement in this report and data gathering challenges must continue to be addressed.
The finalising of the UCT Environmental Sustainability Strategy in 2020, with targets for net zero by 2050, is considered an important milestone in UCT’s response to the climate crisis.
UCT must now focus on how to achieve strong and rapid reductions in its emissions, through urgent action planning, implementation, and reporting on progress against its new net-zero targets.
Director: Environmental Sustainability
Office of the Vice-Chancellor
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