Exeter, Devon UK • May 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Comment Is Exeter really the UK’s greenest city?

Is Exeter really the UK’s greenest city?

Online Senior Editors, Amelie Thompson and Megan Haynes, discuss Exeter's questionable sustainability practices in turn with a growing student population.
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Following a study conducted by the University of Sheffield, Exeter was crowned the ‘greenest city centre’. Exeter was awarded this title by having more trees, vegetation and accessible greenspaces than any other urban centre in Great Britain.

Yet, it is important to note that this study focused only on city centres, and whilst Exeter maintains green spaces in its centre, the wider city area has seen greenness decrease, due to large-scale developments and the felling of street trees.

The ever-growing student population in Exeter contributes to the need for more large-scale developments, and thus, often the reduction of green spaces. From 2018/19 to 2022/23, the overall University student population increased by 26%, to 29,776 students. If such growth continues, it could pose a significant threat to green spaces in the wider city of Exeter, as demand increases for accommodation, as occupancy rates are near 100% already. The recent construction of East Park has urbanised what was once a beautiful greenspace, and the recent construction of the CREWW building has single-handedly removed about one-third of the greenspace in the plantation, the central greenspace on campus.

The ever-growing student population in Exeter contributes to the need for more large-scale developments, and thus, often the reduction of green spaces.

Nevertheless, the University of Exeter is also known for its greenness – there are often claims that the University has the ‘highest student to tree ratio’, with over 10,000 trees across the Exeter campuses. In fact, the greenness of the city and campus draws many people to decide to study in Exeter.

However, there can be questions about how significant this appraisal is. Does the physical amount of green space matter, or is green policy more important? Islington, which came second on the list, is part of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which as of this month is the biggest anti-pollution charging zone in the world. Meanwhile, Exeter City Council declared a Climate Emergency in July 2019, and created their 2030 Net Zero target, but what do we have to show for it? Little progress has been made in achieving this so far, considering we are four years into the strategy.

Does the physical amount of green space matter, or is green policy more important?

When considering ‘green’ in a wider sense, to encompass features of sustainable practices, policies and protections, the University of Exeter has also been ranked highly. Though not first, in People and Planet’s University Sustainability League, the University ranked sixth in 2022/23, winning a ‘First Class’ category. However, through further investigation of the ranking, Exeter was given a 10/10 for ‘ethical investment policy’. Unfortunately, this fails to account for the research partnership between the University and Shell, announced in November 2022.

Though not first, in People and Planet’s University Sustainability League, the University ranked sixth in 2022/23, winning a ‘First Class’ category.

The partnership with Shell, though intended to be sustainable for ‘carbon sequestration’, is antithetical to any sort of ‘greenness’, as the corporation continues to degrade the climate through extraction for oils and gases. In 2022 alone, Shell’s carbon emissions were around 1.232 billion tonnes. Such a collaboration is also oxymoronic to the University’s ‘Strategy 2030’, which includes net zero plans and aims to ‘lead meaningful action against the climate emergency and ecological crisis’. The University’s lack of progress towards net zero (except a few solar panels), paints a picture of the University only ‘bleeding green’ when it suits them.

The University’s lack of progress towards net zero (except a few solar panels), paints a picture of the University only ‘bleeding green’ when it suits them.

Despite ‘Shell Out’ protests in February, championed by Student Guild President, Emma de Saram, and rejection from some of the University’s key climate scientists, the partnership is currently still active. This undermines any other actions taken by the University to be more environmentally friendly, as fossil fuels are the crux of climate change. As fossil fuel companies emit a disproportionately gigantic amount of emissions, the sustained partnership with Shell also undermines any action students or Exeter residents take to be more environmentally conscious, as the climate will be annihilated unless our reliance on fossil fuel ends.

Despite ‘Shell Out’ protests in February, championed by Student Guild President, Emma de Saram, and rejection from some of the University’s key climate scientists, the partnership is currently still active.

Therefore, though there may be a greater abundance of green spaces in the centre of Exeter, that does not mean that the city is truly ‘green’. The University of Exeter plays a key role in inhibiting true sustainability. It must sever ties with the climate-destroying Shell, ensure its pledges are not simply greenwashing, and work with, rather than against, the plethora of fantastic environmental activists within the student body to ensure Exeter and the wider world, has a better chance to thrive. There is more to the title ‘greenest city’ than just the amount of greenspace it has. A truly green city needs to have a more ambitious and holistic approach.

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