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2023 was the hottest year. What is King’s doing about it?

Staff writer Kayla Rahaman examines King’s College London’s sustainability efforts in the context of a worsening climate crisis internationally.

2023 marked the hottest year in recorded climate history, with global average temperatures reaching 1.48°C above pre-industrial levels. It is also the first year on record where every day was at least 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

This report is a grim reminder that we are failing to bring about a cooler future. Nine years ago, 196 parties committed to the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2030. Six years before that deadline, we’re already almost there.

The urgency of the climate crisis has not gone under-appreciated at King’s College London (KCL). Last year, the university was placed fifth in first-class sustainability rankings across essential categories encompassing financial, management, service and educational concerns. This ranks the institution higher than all other London universities, except the University of the Arts London (UAL), in sustainability. KCL fully divested from fossil fuels in 2021 and installed solar panels on Bush House as part of energy-efficiency projects across all campuses.

Even on a day-to-day basis, students can see the ‘little things’ that have fostered a more sustainable campus culture. Reusable cups are promoted at the Union Shop and campus food spots alongside recyclable utensils. Plant-based food and drink are available at all of these locations, with the Bush House 8th floor Café offering fully vegan options. There has also been a burgeoning of climate teaching and discourses at an institutional level.

But global warming mounts ever-increasing challenges, and institutions can always do more.

The university announced last year that it would renege on its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2025, pushing the deadline to 2030. King’s now shares a 2030 net-zero vision with University College London (UCL) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), but remains ahead of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which aims to achieve net-zero by 2032.

Professor Berkhout, appointed Assistant Principle of King’s Climate and Sustainability team, explained that net zero goals are seen by some corporations as a way to “basically buy off [their] guilt”. Even so, KCL’s revised plans pursue a 25% decrease of emissions for which King’s is directly responsible by 2030: that’s a 25% mark down of its initial goals from a 2017-2018 baseline. A recent Roar investigation also revealed that King’s Sustainability Exhibition ‘A Quiet Enchanting’ in December 2023 relied on low energy-efficiency screens. Though recycling bins with symbolically separate general waste and recycling sections are available throughout campus, some share a common waste basket.

Despite disappointments as of late, King’s already exceeded its own expectations when it reduced overall carbon emissions by 53% from a 2005-2006 baseline in 2020. In addition, the university’s Climate & Sustainability Action Plan, announced in February 2023, envisions for the first time an integrative climate strategy. Ongoing targets into 2024 include:

  • Achieving a reportable 0% environmental pollution incident rate.
  • Implementing a ‘Menus of Change’ approach to food services (gathering environment-friendly items before writing menus).
  • Engaging with sustainable community projects and student opportunities.
  • Increasing enrolment and completion of the KEATS Sustainability and Climate module.
  • Converting at least 75% of King’s fleet to zero or low emissions vehicles.
  • Reducing travel emissions wherever practical.

The outlook for global warming is bleak. The release of greenhouse gases currently trapped in the biosphere will likely break last year’s record due to El Nino’s natural warming of the Pacific in 2024. The IPCC’s AR6 Synthesis Report underscores the insufficiency of current climate action to surmount severe existential threats to resource insecurity and heightened human conflicts as a consequence.

We are edging close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and the Paris Climate Agreement has failed to bring about intergovernmental climate action. Cleaner business models must be adopted to mitigate the economic risks posed by ecological disruptions. The King’s community should be proud of its dedication to engaging with the climate crisis, but our institution has the resources and reach to push even harder. Right now King’s College London must become bolder, not start faltering, in its sustainability endeavours.

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