The University of Cambridge has been blasted for its 17,545 flights since 2016, about the same time it decided to ban beef and lamb to ‘dramatically reduce food-related carbon emissions’.
The figures were outed by a Freedom of Information request by the Countryside Alliance (CA), showing university staff had travelled to locations including Hawaii, Los Angeles, Sydney, Sao Paulo and Brussels.
Other locations the CA said were not often associated with academic work included Zante, Orlando and Honolulu, while more than 250 flights were taken to cities ‘easily reachable by train’, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Brussels and Paris.
Speaking in September 2019, Professor Andrew Balmford, a University of Cambridge professor in conservation science, said: “It is hard to imagine any other interventions that would yield such dramatic benefits in so short span of time.”
The university said 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) were cut annually due to its ban on beef and sheep, but its total CO2 emissions to only its top 50 most-frequent destinations peaked at 18,077.28 tonnes, as calculated by CA using a carbon footprint calculator.
By cutting out a flight to New York, Las Vegas and Sydney, the university could save 512 tonnes in CO2 emissions each year.
A letter to the university’s vice chancellor, written by CA chief executive Tim Bonner and signed by more than 20 livestock farmers, said Prof Balmford’s claim was ‘completely unsustainable’ and the university would do better to look at its airline flight policy.
It said: “There is a very valid argument that by sourcing grass-fed, locally sourced beef and lamb, and reviewing your airline flight policy, the university would have a far greater impact on reducing carbon emissions.
“More than that the current situation clearly leaves the university open to the charge of hypocrisy as it implements and promotes what it clearly intended to be an ‘eye-catching’ policy whilst continuing to contribute massively to CO2 emissions created by the airline industry.”
Mr Bonner added those who had signed the letter would be ‘keen to discuss supplying high-quality beef and lamb to Cambridge when it lifts the ban’.
A university spokesperson said it was developing an internal offsetting scheme ‘to help mitigate the impact of our air travel and measures to reduce the need for, and impact of, the travel undertaken by our staff’.