UK Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy ‘shows promise’

Let’s Go Zero – a schools’ climate campaign which has more than 1,200 UK schools, colleges and nurseries signed up so far, all sharing the goal to be zero carbon by 2030, has responded to the Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy launched in advance of Earth Day.  

The campaign’s response is ‘must do better, far, far quicker’.   

Let’s Go Zero, representing over 104,000 teachers and nearly 620,000 pupils and rising rapidly, was invited to input to the strategy and while they recognise that it includes several steps in the right direction, it does not go anywhere near far enough, fast enough in the face of a climate emergency.  

Harriet Lamb, CEO of climate charity Ashden which leads the Let’s Go Zero campaign, said: “We welcome many aspects of this strategy, including our suggestions that every school have a climate action plan, a sustainability lead, and include sustainability and climate change in teacher training. But providing schools with the means to decarbonise quickly was glaringly absent in the strategy.” 

Let’s Go Zero wants the Department of Education to commit to other key policies, including an urgent retrofit of the school estate and to commit to all schools being zero carbon by 2030.  

Harriet continued: “We must invest now in a national programme to retrofit the nation’s schools. Providing adequate funding for action now will save hard-pressed school budgets as fuel prices are sky rocketing, boost local businesses, create new jobs, and support the government’s net zero and levelling-up targets.   

“This strategy is completely lacking in urgency; the government needs to push harder. We’d give them a ‘Good’ for effort but it simply doesn’t reflect the need for drastic and urgent action as so recently highlighted by the IPCC. We cannot fail our children and jeopardise their future by being too slow.”   

Letters from students at St Augustine’s School in Scarborough were handed to Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education by Let’s Go Zero at the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change strategy launch. The students make it clear that they want immediate action. 

A letter from a Year 8 pupil signed ‘a concerned student’ said: “Dear Mr Education Secretary…You need to step it up, the planet needs our schools in the UK to be environmentally friendly to our planet. You need to do more, because it doesn’t take 10 years to be sustainable. Step it up and try and make our planet more healthy before 2030.”  

Let’s Go Zero, which was named in the strategy as working with the Department for Education on setting targets for schools, will continue to work with the schools to monitor and report on their energy in future, while also pushing government for ambitious action to be taken much quicker, and for immediate funding to be given to schools so they can adapt and retrofit the school estate as a matter of urgency.  

The government has committed in the strategy to piloting new building technologies that may support the future retrofit of the education estate, but they won’t roll that out further until 2025. 

“This is too late. Schools need money to decarbonise now – it’s as simple as that,” says Ms Lamb. “They know what needs to happen, but few can afford the expensive infrastructure changes. Cutting energy use through insulation and generating their own energy on-site will help reduce high energy bills now in response to today’s energy crisis.”  

Let’s Go Zero schools take action to cut their emissions relating to transport, waste, food, water, the school grounds, energy use, procurement and in their teaching, and are supported by a coalition of eight leading sustainability organisations that work in schools.  

The campaign is also backed by trusts and academies and the Church of England, amongst many others with a deep interest in the sustainability of schools and the future for children. 

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