Our response to the climate crisis

The climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity, and the University is committed to continuing to play a leading role in creating a more sustainable world through its research, teaching and operations.

We have already pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040 – 10 years earlier than recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The University is on track to halve its carbon emissions – relative to its expenditure – by 2025, compared with 2007/8 levels. It is also reviewing options that include low carbon heating and lower carbon travel, to help meet the 2040 target. We have received a £5 million interest-free loan from the Scottish Funding Council to deliver a raft of energy reduction projects.

We are also committed to responsible investment. In 2015, we divested from coal and tar sands and, in 2018, announced our intention to fully divest from fossil fuels by the start of 2021.

The University takes a whole-institution approach to tackling climate change and continues to undertake a wide range of research and teaching on the issue.

We are a global leader in climate change research. In 2018, we helped China to launch its first Low Carbon College, in Shanghai. We are also continuing to develop opportunities for our students and staff to learn about climate change and encouraging them to reduce their own footprint.  We conduct leading research on the real world impacts of the climate crisis on the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged and its implications for gender, for development, for poverty and for those already facing disadvantage and will expand this work over time.

Our mission is to deliver positive impact for society, by discovering, developing and sharing knowledge. As a global University, we are deeply concerned by the climate crisis and want to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible impact. We can best do this by making sustainable choices and, through research and teaching, encouraging others to do likewise.

Professor Peter MathiesonPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor

Universities have a key role to play in helping to secure a sustainable future, and our holistic approach – which includes research, teaching and operations – reflects this. We want to ensure that our actions are grounded in evidence, and that we teach our students the importance of sustainable development.

Dave GormanDirector of Social Responsibility and Sustainability

The University takes action on a range of social responsibility and sustainability issues, such as waste reduction, social investment, human rights, modern slavery and community engagement.

More details can be found on our Social Responsibility and Sustainability website.

Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Play your part

On Friday 20 September, students and staff are being encouraged to take 30 minutes out of their day to learn more about the climate crisis, how the University is responding, and what they can do to help.

The University’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability will be hosting events in the central campus and stalls across other campuses throughout the day.

Read more about our Responding to the Climate Crisis events

Additional information


The University of Edinburgh is a global leader in climate change research, which includes renewable energy generation, carbon management, marine ecosystems and forestry. Our researchers are developing solutions to help society mitigate, adapt to – and even – slow climate change.

The University has several centres of climate, energy and environmental expertise:

Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation

Institute for Energy Systems

Centre for Sustainable Landscapes and Forests

FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility.

Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage 

Climate Exchange


A key element of our climate strategy is giving students and staff the opportunity to learn about climate change, and take action to reduce their own footprint.

We offer a range of teaching that focuses on – or includes – sustainability. All undergraduates can an online credit-bearing course on climate change, resource use and social equality.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility course

There are various opportunities for students alongside or outside of the formal curriculum. The University’s Department for Social responsibility and Sustainability helps students to learn more about climate change, resource use, and other related topics. Students can also undertake work-based placements, volunteering, paid internships and apply for funding for student projects.


The University’s greatest source of emissions is from gas and electricity used to heat and power its classrooms and student accommodation. Ensuring our buildings are redesigned to be more energy efficient is a high priority. Business travel is also a key source of emissions, and the University is considering how to reduce emissions from flights without hampering global connectivity.

In 2018, the University announced it would divest from fossil fuels by 2021, making it the largest University endowment in the UK to be free of fossil fuel investment. 

International recognition 

Edinburgh was named Sustainability Institution of the Year at the EAUC Green Gown awards in 2018, and was highly commended in the 2019 International Green Gown awards.

It also received an overall score of A in the Principles for Responsible Investment’s annual assessment, which is supported by the United Nations.  

Related links

You can access the University’s Climate Strategy here: ‘Zero by 2040’

Read the University’s  2017-18 annual report on climate change 

Find out what we are doing in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals

SDG Accord Global Climate Emergency Letter