UKRI position statement on carbon offsetting

The UKRI environmental sustainability strategy sets out our ambition to achieve ‘net zero’ operational carbon emissions by 2040, while continuing to fund and deliver world leading research and innovation.

To reach net zero, we are prioritising reducing carbon from our own operations (the terms ‘carbon emission’ or ‘carbon’ in this document refer to the greenhouse gases (GHGs) known to have negative climate change impacts as covered by the Kyoto Protocol and GHG Protocol).

This means we want to reduce our direct carbon emissions as the first thing we do wherever we can. This sits well with our core role of funding research and innovation, including activities which help policymakers to recognise the need and opportunities to decarbonise society.

For UKRI, ‘carbon offsetting’ means the capture, absorption or reduction of carbon made with the intention of compensating (‘offsetting’) for carbon emissions made elsewhere. Offsetting is typically delivered through purchasing carbon credits from a third party who will undertake or invest in carbon removal activities, such as tree planting or carbon capture. UKRI does not currently support carbon offsetting as a means of reducing carbon emissions.

Current research indicates that the benefits of different offsetting activities are variable and that there is lack of evidence of genuine long-term additionality (permanent capture and storage of carbon). UKRI is actively funding research into carbon removal activities that could enable effective carbon offsetting in future.

The UKRI current position is:

  • we will seek to reduce our own carbon emissions as a matter of priority
  • expenditure of UKRI funds by staff on carbon offsetting is not permitted, including for carbon emissions incurred by business travel
  • carbon offsetting is not a permitted UKRI grant expenditure, reflected in the standard terms and conditions of UKRI full economic cost (FEC) grants
  • grant applicants are actively encouraged to consider environmental impact when considering type of travel within research grant proposals, as set out in the UKRI FEC grants guidance

We are actively engaging and supporting the research and innovation sector, academics and other public sector bodies to learn and better inform credible carbon offsetting in future.

We will review and update this position statement in year 2024 to 2025, or sooner if there is a robust case for us to do so.

Last updated: 16 March 2023

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