Dramatic decrease in AU’s carbon emissions in 2020

In 2020, the university’s carbon emissions fell by a dramatic 44% over 2019, Aarhus University’s greenhouse gas emissions report for 2020 shows. The decrease is largely attributable to the effects of the pandemic on the university’s operations.

A sharp reduction in travel activity, partly shuttered buildings and long periods of remote work and study for the university’s staff and students. The impact of Covid-19 is clearly legible in AU’s latest GHG report, which inventories the greenhouse gasses emitted by the university in 2020. The university’s total emissions fell by 44% over 2019. 

One factor in particular was responsible for this development: less air travel. In 2018 and 2018, air travel accounted for about 40% of AU’s total carbon emissions; in 2020, the figure was just 4.5% (based on assessment of the same parameters as in 2019). Another factor that contributed to the dramatic reduction in emissions was lower energy consumption in the university’s buildings.

Although a positive climate report card is good news, University Director Arnold Boon stresses that the unique situation makes it difficult to evaluate the effects of AU’s carbon-reduction initiatives with any degree of precision.

“This reduction is primarily the result of the extraordinary situation we as a society find ourselves in, and so we can hardly sustain the same low level of emissions when our activity level is normalised. That said, it obviously makes good sense for us to draw some positive conclusions from our experiences during Covid, for example by travelling less and holding more online meetings,” he says, with reference to the draft version of a new, more climate-friendly travel policy, which is currently under internal consultation.

The green transition is well underway at AU

Despite his reservations with regard to the 2020 GHG report, generally speaking, Boon stresses, the university is on the right path. The two GHG reports from the period before Covid-19 show a decrease in emissions as well.

“To reach the target of a permanent reduction of 35% in 2025 set in the university’s climate strategy, it’s crucial that we continue with the focused, systematic development we’re already making good progress on. And I’m particularly pleased that in my experience, staff and students are generally enthusiastic about the new green initiatives we introduce. It’s the combination of a sustained effort and internal support that will make a difference in the long run,” the university director concludes. He adds that more activities are on the way in connection with AU’s climate action plan for 2022, for example various energy savings in AU’s buildings.

In addition to working with AU’s own GHG emissions reporting,the university is also collaborating with the other Danish universities on developing a common approach to GHG emissions reporting in the university sector. The objective is to develop a common methodology with associated guidelines.

The GHG emissions report in brief

Aarhus University's GHG emissions report is based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), which is a recognised method of calculating emissions of greenhouse gases by converting them into CO2 equivalents divided into three scopes.

Read AU’s 2020 GHG emissions report and learn more about the methodology used.

Need more information?

If you have any questions, you are welcome to send an email to greenteam@au.dk.