Why Net-Zero and what does it mean to be a Net-Zero School?

Globally, research suggests that humanity must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest in order to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C – the more ambitious target of the Paris Agreement. This year the UK Hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow to bring leaders together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. TOGETHER FOR OUR PLANET – is the UK Government’s COP26 call to action stating:

“We cannot afford to wait to act against the threat of climate change. We must work together to protect our planet and people and ensure a greener, more resilient future for us all and each of us has a part to play.

That’s why, in the run-up to the summit, we’ll be working closely with businesses, civil society groups, schools, and people across the UK as part of our conversation on tackling climate change.

Many people from all over the UK are already doing their bit on climate change, from the engineers working on the offshore wind farms now powering our homes and businesses, to local initiatives encouraging children and parents to walk to school. We want to celebrate them and inspire more to join them.

We’re inviting organisations from every corner of the UK to join us in the #RaceToZero. Race To Zero is a global initiative, backed by science-based targets, to commit businesses, cities, regions, investors, schools and universities to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.”

However, for Schools, I think there is an even more compelling reason to embrace net-zero and that is on behalf of their Young People. I believe that there is a moral imperative for schools to show leadership in this area and address the clear concerns of their Students.

“Climate Anxiety – Children losing sleep over Climate Change and the environment” * BBC Survey

“Climate change was the most commonly cited among most important issues facing the world, in a survey of more than 10,000 young people” ** Amnesty International

So, what is meant by Net-Zero and what might a Net-Zero school look like?

Well, there is no universally agreed definition for net-zero, but most interpretations refer to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere, with two widely accepted routes to achieving net-zero, which work in tandem: reducing existing emissions and actively removing greenhouse gases. When the amount of carbon emissions produced are cancelled out by the amount removed or offset then net-zero is achieved. The lower the emissions, the easier this becomes.

In contrast, a gross-zero target would mean reducing all emissions to zero which is simply not realistic at present and so instead the net-zero target recognises that there will be some emissions but that these need to be fully offset, predominantly through natural carbon sinks such as oceans and forests. (In the future, it may be possible to use artificial carbon sinks to increase carbon removal, research into these technologies is ongoing.)

So, for a school to be classified to be net-zero, then across all its sites and through all its activities (including its supply chain and procurement), it must not contribute to climate change through carbon emissions. Key impact areas include energy use, travel, waste, water, procurement, food and school grounds maintenance.

Imagine… a school that through efficient technologies and on-site power generation, produces as much energy on-site as it consumes from the electric grid, with EV points to charge staff cars and school buses, with biodigesters to turn organic & food waste into heating and where water collection systems reduce water bills to zero.

A net-zero school that reinforces teaching and learning as a three-dimensional extended learning space, where students learn through practical, hands-on experiences in managing their school’s energy usage, rainwater collection, solar panel optimisation, and wind turbine efficiency. A school that ultimately empowers young people to take responsibility for their own net-zero futures.

If you want to find out how your School or Trust can start its Net-Zero journey, then we would love to help, please click here

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* Survey for BBC Newsround –


** Climate change is one of the most important issues facing the world, according to a major new survey of young people published by Amnesty International.