Oxford goes green


How is Oxford trying to go green in 2020?

At the start of a new decade, and with the UN Climate Change Summit (COP 26) taking place at the end of this year in Glasgow, green issues are going to be top of the agenda in the UK for many people.  So, what initiatives are planned to help Oxford go green in 2020?

New Water Fountains for City Parks

Oxford City Council is set to install new drinking fountains in three of the city’s parks, as part of the City Council’s support for cutting plastic waste and providing free, healthy hydration.

The first drinking fountain is already in place in Florence Park, with two more soon to follow in Bury Knowle and Cutteslowe Park.

The hope is that providing free refill stations will help to tackle the issue of single-use plastic waste.

The project has been delivered in partnership with Refill Oxford, part of the City to Sea’s national campaign to promote the use of free tap water to reduce the 7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles bought in the UK every year. In Oxford that’s calculated at 300 bottles every 8 minutes, which equates to 54,000 every 24 hours.  

Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford, said

“We need to massively reduce our plastic waste to help the environment. Recycling still uses energy, so simple things like using a refillable drinking bottle or cup can help reduce our carbon footprint. These water fountains provide clean, free drinks that mean fewer plastic bottles in our bins and recycling centres.”

Refill app is available to find your nearest Refill station in Oxford.

Leys Pool Car Park transformed into green electricity hub

One of the UK’s largest public solar carports has been installed at Oxford City Council’s Leys Pools and Leisure Centre in Blackbird Leys.

A canopy over 48 car-parking spaces, of more than 350 solar panels, will produce over 80,000 kilowatt hours of green electricity.  That’s enough to power around 25 homes.

Oxford City Council has reduced its own carbon footprint by 10% in the last year, with the council’s carbon emissions having fallen by over 40% in the last four years.  Solar energy is set to play an important role in this move towards decarbonisation.

This latest green electricity hub means that the City Council is now generating the equivalent of 12% of its annual electricity consumption from PV on its own buildings.

£19m Budget for Climate Emergency

At the start of 2019, Oxford City Council declared a climate emergency.  Following this, the council decided to become the first UK city to hold a Citizens Assembly on the issue – the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change.

Assembly members asked to vote on the question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?” Thirty-seven out of forty-one of the Assembly members said ‘yes’.

Last month, the Council respond to the assembly’s demands and outlined a £19m climate emergency budget.

In response to the report by the Citizens Assembly, the City Council will:

  • Set a Climate Emergency Budget that commits over £1 million additional operational funding and £18 million of capital investment to address the climate emergency – on top of £84 million of ongoing investment to tackle the climate emergency in Oxford and countywide
  • Become net zero as a Council in 2020.
  • Respond directly to the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly through raising the energy efficiency of new homes and community buildings, cutting transport emissions, boosting renewable energy installation, expanding biodiversity across the city, and increasing public engagement with recycling.
  • Hold a Zero Carbon Oxford summit in the early new year – involving the major organisations responsible for the majority of emissions in the city to see how we can work together to will be to develop a shared vision, forum, and plans to set a course towards a Zero Carbon Oxford.
  • Establish a Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership and influence partners to do more.
  • Create new carbon budgets for the city to step down to zero.
  • Provide support to individuals and communities to tackle the climate emergency.

University Sustainability Programme

The University of Oxford has set up an Environmental Sustainability team, which aims to help the university increase its positive impact on the world through a range of programmes and services.

The university has stated that it recognises the impact it has on its surrounding environment as such a large organisation in the city.  On their website that state that they ‘are committed to creating an environment where staff, students and visitors can work, travel and study more sustainably’.

The university has set up a range of programmes which aims to tackle an array of issues.  These include:

  • Energy and Carbon management – encouraging energy-efficient practices and investing in its estate to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Emissions and discharge – putting in place appropriate controls to prevent pollution and work to reduce where practicable emissions and discharges to air, land and water.
  • Waste and material resources – encouraging preventing and reducing waste and reuse of resources prior to recycling or disposal.
  • Water – reducing water consumption through water-efficient practices and technologies.
  • Education, research and knowledge transfer – increasing awareness and understanding of environmental sustainability by staff and students and serving society by contributing and promoting the University’s research and knowledge transfer on sustainability.
  • Sustainable travel – reducing emissions from work-related travel and University-owned vehicles
  • Sustainable buildings – by making full use of available space and designing and refurbishing buildings in line with the University’s Sustainable Building Philosophy
  • Biodiversity – enhancing wherever possible wildlife habitat on University-owned land and supporting wider initiatives as appropriate.
  • Sustainable purchasing – encouraging and embedding sustainable and life-cycle considerations into purchasing decisions.
  • Community – working with local schools and businesses and supporting an extensive volunteering programme.

More information on each of the programmes can be found at https://sustainability.admin.ox.ac.uk/programmes/activities.

New Graduate College to Focus on Environmental Change

The University has announced that its new graduate college will focus on the ‘two major challenges’ of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and environmental change.

The college will see postdoctoral researchers and graduate students working on interdisciplinary research, mostly between those in the mathematics, physical and life sciences division, but also with some other disciplines, the university said in a statement.

The new college, the first since 1990, forms part of the university’s strategic plan, approved in November 2018, which sets out its vision to increase the number of postgraduate taught students by up to 450 a year and postgraduate research students by 400 by 2030.

Professor Tarassenko said that the new college would “harness diverse expertise, bringing together researchers who have curiosity beyond their own subject in common”.

The college, which will be located in the Radcliffe Science Library site in central Oxford, will also host entrepreneurs-in-residence.

The college begin recruiting 200 graduate students in 2019-20, with a view to them arriving in September 2020.

With the City Council responsible for 1% of emissions in Oxford, and the University of Oxford. the largest contributor to the city’s footprint at 8% of total emissions, it is encouraging to see both organisations taking the issue of climate-change seriously.

The hope is that the city’s commitment to going green will encourage other cities and universities in the UK to undertake similar commitments.


Image credit: Ed Webster, University Parks

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