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Calculations don’t add up for Government’s plan for warmer and greener schools

Let’s Go Zero, the new national schools campaign launched last week, welcomes the government’s inclusion of schools in their 10-point green plan to net zero but calls for a clearer road map of how the government will fund the vital carbon reductions.   

Alex Green, schools manager for the Let’s Go Zero campaign which is being spearheaded by climate solutions charity, Ashden, said: “While the spotlight on schools is welcome, we call on the government to scale up their ambition and the detail of the plans.  Making all our schools warmer and greener is much needed and will deliver significant benefits for our children and communities, but today’s announcement does not give us the plans, policies or funds for schools to play their part in reaching zero carbon.” 

Ashden, which has been working with schools on sustainability plans for over a decade, point out that for all education buildings alone in England to be net zero by 2030 will cost at least a predicted £23.37 billion* – that is nearly 5 times the amount announced to fund the whole of the UK’s journey to net zero carbon. 

Alex Green added: “In June, the UK government announced £1bn funding for 50 major school new building projects in England but with 24,000 schools in England that’s just 0.2 percent of schools. The money available for repairs was even lower at just £560m committed to by the UK government when in fact billions are needed.” 

Let’s Go Zero will be working with the education sector to support setting interim targets for new low-carbon builds but, as 72 per cent of current school buildings in the UK are expected to still be in use in 2050, the big opportunity for carbon reduction has to sit with retrofitting the existing building stock, as well as reducing emissions from people travelling to schools , and other indirect emissions such as from food and procurement. 

The national campaign will be reaching out to the UK’s 32,000 schools in the run up to November 2021 in time for COP26, and beyond. 

Alex Green continued: “Let’s Go Zero is working with schools to help them set out their journey to zero carbon over the next decade, helping share information and experiences of how to lower energy use, change behaviours from food to fuel.”  

“But schools want Government backing and support.  Schools can’t make the big, significant changes alone – government needs to provide the funds to make those happen – whether it’s thoroughly insulating old, energy-guzzling buildings or providing the funds for an overhaul of the heating system to a zero carbon one.” 

Research* by Ashden in summer 2020 showed that while schools are keen to show leadership on climate action, their confidence was impacted by (in order of priority) lack of funding, technical support, and not having a dedicated resource to help them through the journey. This was followed by concern for the climate emergency, a desire to align with other schools and local authorities, and finally, the benefits of publicity. 

Confidence to publicly declare their commitment was found to be impacted by their lack of knowledge and understanding of what climate action in the school environment is and how to achieve it. 

Barriers to action were tied to funding, resources and practical tools. And the current lack of clear direction or pressure from Government departments – DfE, OFSTED and BEIS – meant that schools aren’t currently naturally motivated to drive decarbonisation as a key priority – hence the need for a concerted campaign such as Let’s Go Zero working with the schools and government and for a clear roadmap to be laid out by government. 

Schools across the UK are now starting to sign up to a campaign declaring their aim to become zero carbon by 2030 and demanding more support from government to reach this goal. 79 trailblazing schools have signed up since the launch last week (9 Nov) and over 10 local authorities are keen to promote it to schools in their areas including the Greater London Authority. 

Let’s Go Zero will help schools learn from their peers, share best practice and connect with sources of support. Signatory schools are committing to cut carbon in seven key areas – energy, food, procurement, waste, water, travel and school grounds, as well as addressing the place of climate in the curriculum. By joining Let’s Go Zero, schools are clearly stating their ambition to be zero carbon by 2030, agreeing to do more, and acknowledging that they need government help to reach the target. 

For more information, visit the campaign website. 

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About Author: Ellie Adshead