UK schools pledge to go zero carbon within a decade

The Let’s Go Zero campaign, which officially launches on 9 November, will support school efforts to reduce emissions and calls for government action on greening schools.

Led by climate solutions charity Ashden, schools joining Let’s Go Zero 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.

The campaign will officially launch with daily presentations and discussions at the week-long Youth Climate Summit, starting 9 November, in the year build-up to the United Nations Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow next November.

Let’s Go Zero will be driven by schools with input from students and support from a powerful coalition of sustainability partners including Ashden, Global Action Plan (Transform Our World) and organiser of the Youth Climate Summit, Fairtrade Foundation (Fairtrade Schools), Carbon Trust, EcoSchools, Sustrans (School Streets)and Soil Association (Food for Life). Let’s Go Zero will help schools learn from their peers, share best practice and connect with sources of support.

Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb says: “Young people are demanding action on climate and we must all get behind them, starting in the UK’s 32,000 schools. 10 million people walk through the school gates every day and they can take bold action to go green in the schools themselves.”

Student Eco Clubs are proving key to boosting student and teacher commitment. Year 12 student Caroline Uttermann at North London Collegiate School is a school Eco Rep and a Youth Ambassador at the Youth Climate Summit: “I’m passionately doing what I can to educate my peers and elders on the climate crisis, and to encourage them to make changes in their lives – both big and small. I cannot stand silent as the beauty I have admired all my life disappears.”

North London Collegiate School has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030, with many targets for 2025, and has already implemented a range of initiatives from lift sharing (pre-Covid) and encouraging walking or cycling to school, having a No Beef menu, and creating wild spaces on the school grounds – championed by their biology teacher, Jenny Chapman: “It’s the most important thing I can do with my life. Schools can help with demonstrating the changes that need to be made.”

Inspired by David Attenborough, Scott Fry, Premises Manager at Exmouth Community School says: “We’ve only got one world, we can’t keep chipping away at it, we have to show the students it’s important to protect it. The Let’s Go Zero initiative will help put weight behind what schools like us are doing – I’ve been doing most of this solo and it’s been quite lonely at times – so this is wonderful. I’m committed to spreading the word.”

Stephen Green, Environmental Coordinator for King’s Academy Ringmer School in Lewes, Sussex which has held a Green Flag EcoSchool Award since 2002 and was the first school to win an Ashden Award for their carbon reductions, says:

“Kids get it if they see a whole mound of plastic going to landfill – they can see that is wrong. Now about 60-70 per cent of our new Year 7s want to be Eco Reps.”  Over 15 years he has supported around 150 schools on their eco journey.  Dramatic carbon cutting can be through simple actions like working out how to switch off the heating, he says. Then the bigger changes can come, such as retrofitting or installing renewable energy – if funds are available.

Tom Parkin, Head Teacher of South Molton Primary School in North Devon, says connecting with food and nature has been key. With an allotment and a large ‘hotbox’ composter, they have zero food waste and even incorporate their chickens’ eggs into the curriculum. They also have a No Electricity Day every term, “the children love it – especially in the winter when it’s dark,” he says. To become zero carbon they want to increase energy and water saving and to install more solar PV – funds allowing.

Getting to zero carbon will need to be a government-supported effort, says Harriet Lamb: “We cannot rely just on the good will of school management – they will need government support and funding mechanisms to make the necessary changes. We need to move at pace and scale to reduce severe climate impacts which will affect these children’s lives.”

Sonja Graham, Co-CEO of Global Action Plan, says: “From car-free school runs and plant-based canteens, schools across the country are already inspiring entire communities to think and act differently – but many feel like they are doing so alone and with stretched resources. Let’s Go Zero provides a powerful route for schools to drive impact-led action and unite behind a call for much-needed funding to help all schools to become cleaner, healthier and sustainable learning environments.”

This piece first appeared in Education Business. 

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