- First in South Asia to receive ISO 14064-1:2018 certification
By Venessa Anthony
Global warming and its consequences are now widely understood phenomena with much evidence and research highlighting the global impact of rising temperatures. Sri Lanka, as an island nation, is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, and therefore has an obligation to mitigate these impacts wherever possible.
The University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ), being committed to the environmental wellbeing of the country, has thus implemented the “Carbon Neutral Project”. Spearheaded by the Centre for Sustainability (CFS) of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, the project aims to make USJ the first carbon-neutral university in South Asia.
Steps to achieve this goal include calculating the university’s carbon footprint.
The concept of the carbon footprint, or the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) released into the atmosphere because of the actions of an individual or group, has gained prominence in recent years. Calculating and comparing the carbon footprint yearly allows USJ to understand and monitor its individual contribution to global warming and employ strategies to reduce GHG emissions. Further to simply calculating the carbon footprint, USJ has now voluntarily disclosed greenhouse gas emissions from 2019, and had them verified in accordance with ISO 14064-3: 2019.
The university reports that the requirements for ISO 14064-1: 2018 have been successfully met with regard to GHG emissions for the 2019 academic year. A huge achievement on the road to neutrality, and combined with multiple other CFS projects, this effort brings USJ ever closer to insetting all of its emissions.
A dynamic, nuanced approach
The CFS is at the forefront of carbon neutrality study and strategy amongst the academic community of Sri Lanka and has created a systematic plan, based on research findings, to compensate for the university’s GHG emissions. A dynamic and nuanced approach, combining the efforts of multiple initiatives, has been created and overseen by CFS Director Prof. Priyan Perera.
Commenting on this, Prof. Perera stated: “Achieving accurate carbon footprint reporting in an institution of this magnitude is no easy task and requires the contribution and co-operation of all the departments and divisions on campus. This was made possible through the formation of the USJ Carbon Management Team, comprising academic and non-academic staff across all divisions of the university.”
They were then able to utilise their centralised web-based portal to assist all departments in reporting their individual emissions. He also added that spreading awareness about carbon reporting through training sessions and workshops is, and will remain, a key component of present and future initiatives to reduce their overall climate impact.
Under the scrutiny of ‘‘The Sustainable Future Group”, direct and indirect GHG emissions were calculated and verified as amounting to 3,838.56 tonnes of CO2e. Direct emissions include sources such as fuel consumption for university-owned vehicles, on-site fuel for generators, and laboratory emissions. Indirect emissions refer to purchased electricity for use in lecture halls, administrative buildings, canteens and other on campus buildings. With this information in hand, the CFS can now start to use its various environmental sustainability projects to attempt to neutralise these emissions.
Reforestation: A vital component
Reforestation projects represent a vital component of the strategy which proposes to compensate GHG emissions through “insetting”. Carbon insetting is the process of balancing one’s carbon emissions via projects that protect existing carbon sinks or create new ones, typically in the form of forests, grasslands, or wetlands.
The University of Sri Jayewardenepura, through the CFS, now boasts three major carbon sinks including 145 ha of lowland tropical rainforest at the Yagirala Forest Reserve, 400 ha of dry mixed evergreen forest in Wanniyagamma and 7 ha of mangrove forest and agroforestry land in Ittapana.
Reforestation has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most effective ways to combat climate change and the benefits of forest restoration go far beyond carbon sequestration. Forests provide essential ecosystem services to communities around the world in the form of hydrological regulation, biodiversity safe havens and non-timber forest products.
Combined with other strategies to reduce GHG emissions on campus such as using alternative energy sources, the expansion of solar power systems and improved waste management and water treatment facilities, the reforestation projects managed by the CFS will make a huge contribution to carbon neutrality.
Broadening their horizons
The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has been able to expand its sustainability mission over the years, broadening its horizons by achieving academic and research excellence. The institution plays an important role in training and guiding the country’s future sustainability leaders, a fact that is recognized at the highest levels within the university’s academic staff.
USJ Vice Chancellor Prof. Sudantha Liyanage noted: “The achievement of the ISO 14064-1: 2018 certification represents an important milestone for the university in our commitment to environmental sustainability. The hard work and co-operation of all involved should stand as an example to others of what can be accomplished with a strong vision, a solid foundation of scientific research, and dedicated team members.”
He also told us that they will continue in their efforts to reduce their university’s impact on climate change and use achievements such as this as a building block for future initiatives that help them to become carbon-neutral.
The road ahead for USJ’s sustainable endeavours is far from over – being the largest State university in Sri Lanka with over 15,000 students, future challenges remain substantial. However, they hope that awards and certificates of this nature will serve as a great example to present and future staff and students that the USJ takes its environmental responsibility seriously, and that the whole USJ community can play a part.
Prof. Liyanage also noted that the work that is done today should inspire everyone to make the world a better place for future generations by joining the fight against global warming.