By Ali El-Zein 

ANU has recently announced its below-zero initiative which sets a target for ANU to “achieve below zero emissions by 2030 for energy, waste, work travel and direct on-campus greenhouse gas emissions”. The initiative follows the timeline released by the university: 

 By 2025: Net-zero emissions for direct on-campus activities, energy, business travel and waste. The focus will be on practical emissions reductions first and foremost, only using high-quality Australian-purchased carbon offsets as a back up. 

 By 2030: Below-zero emissions for direct on-campus activities, energy, business travel and waste, by drawing down emissions on ANU land or using carbon offsets that integrate ANU research and teaching activities. 

Beyond 2030: Progressively draw down emissions accumulated earlier, starting with those accumulated over the lifetime of the Below Zero Initiative. 

 The goals have been informed by the work of The ANU Below Zero Management Group, The ANU Below Zero Advisory Committee, a baseline survey into attitudes towards climate change and emissions reduction, and a University-wide and public consultation.  

 What is ANU emitting now?  

The total estimated emissions during a BAU (business as usual year) at ANU is estimated to be 55,712 tonnes of Co2 equivalent. Of this, work travel is the largest source of emissions, accounting for 51% – this does not include staff and student commutes to campus. Natural gas followed, making up 35%. 

How will Below Zero be achieved?

ANU’s net zero page touts a ‘three-pronged approach’ which forms the initiative; that being: 

1) On the ground emissions reduction and carbon removal; 

2) World-leading climate energy research and teaching; and

 3) Community engagement as the national university. 

An ANU spokesperson told Observer that ANU is well placed to reach their goal given ANU is one of the “world leading universities” in terms of climate change and energy expertise, with over 450 researches across all 7 colleges and in 25 schools. In addition the Acton campus, by virtue of being in the ACT, already runs on 100% renewable energy. 

Carbon Removal Through Offsetting 

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for Co2 emissions through activities that remove the equivalent amount of Co2 from the atmosphere. In the initial stages of the Below Zero plan ANU will rely on purchases or external offsets. However, by 2030, these will be phased out in favour of an internal approach. External offsets will be replaced by offsetting “with a connection to ANU research or teaching activities”. The strategy noted a need for “developing an ANU policy [regarding] carbon offsetting incorporating The Oxford Offsetting Principles”. The report emphasised the need for an academic approach to offsetting, done by developing and researching approaches to offsetting, facilitating coursework and sharing knowledge across universities.

Reducing Work Travel Related Emissions

As aforementioned, work travel is the major emitter of Greenhouse gases (GHG’s) and accordingly, the strategy involves various plans for reducing work travel emissions. These include developing new travel and conference guides, providing GHG calculators for trip planning, “prompting staff and students to consider whether travel is essential” and inserting GHG reduction into an updated ANU travel policy. 

An ANU spokesperson told Observer that rather than mandating restrictions on the University’s major emitter of greenhouse gases, “ANU is creating a culture for informed and responsible decision-making around work/study related travel” in an effort to lower emissions . 

This approach is influenced by results from the ANU Below Zero consultation which found that 90% of the ANU community (staff and students) were either alarmed or concerned about climate change compared to 52% of the general population. The ANU spokesperson noted that this prevailing concern with climate change is the reason why the University anticipates a reduction in travel will occur through the aforementioned strategies, without a mandate. 

Carbon offsetting and reduction of travel fit into stage 1 of ANU’s strategy. Whilst the more specific details of stage 2 have not been released, it involves the consideration of self-generating the renewable energy needed to power the ACT campus.

ANU’s Below Zero can be contextualized within an uptake of universities around Australia adopting sustainability goals.

In 2017 The University of Melbourne launched its sustainable campus plan with its overarching goal being to achieve carbon neutrality before 2030. Supplementary goals included achieving zero-net emissions from electricity by 2021, reducing emissions by 20,000 tonnes of carbon per year by 2020 through on campus energy projects and to reduce fuel emission from fleet vehicles by 25% from the 2015 baseline by 2020. Similarly, in 2020, The University of Western Sydney committed to 100% renewable energy for its operations as soon as practicable, as well as 100% renewable energy for electricity by 2025. 

Graphics by Joseph Oh 


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