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Flying along the supply chain: accounting for emissions from student air travel in the higher education sector

Davies, JC and Dunk, RM (2016) Flying along the supply chain: accounting for emissions from student air travel in the higher education sector. Carbon Management, 6. ISSN 1758-3004

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Abstract

Higher education institutions (HEIs) can play a key role in facilitating the transition to a low carbon economy, where reporting greenhouse gas emissions is an important step in this process. While most UK HEIs are required to report estate emissions, engagement with supply chain emissions has been inconsistent. This research examined emissions arising from the air travel of international and study-abroad students and their visiting friends and relatives (VFR). Survey results demonstrated that flight frequencies were substantially higher than those assumed in sector guidance. An analysis of 25 UK HEIs found student and VFR flight emissions were significant, each being greater than other Scope 3 travel and comparable to Scope 2 emissions. Scenario analysis suggests that by 2020/2021, increases in flight emissions are likely to exceed reductions in estate emissions unless HEIs reinvigorate efforts to achieve reduction targets, and/or there is close to zero growth in inbound and outbound student numbers. It is thus imperative that HEIs develop an accurate picture of these emissions in order to inform their carbon management and internationalization strategies. In doing so, the risk of a rebound-type effect must also be considered, where if action is taken to reduce student flights, VFR flights may increase.

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