Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew commits to become climate positive by 2030

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew releases its first Sustainability Strategy, setting out a series of ambitious commitments to rapidly reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint and utilise its trusted voice, alongside its workforce of leading plant scientists and network of global partnerships, to call for the change needed to tackle the environmental emergency.

The overarching target is to go beyond ‘Net Zero’ with Kew committing to becoming ‘Climate Positive’ by 2030, setting a science-based carbon emissions reduction target. This ambitious target is one of the commitments outlined in Kew’s new 10-year strategy published in March ‘Our Manifesto for Change’.

The organisation, with bases in London, Sussex and Madagascar, will seek to reduce emissions as rapidly as possible, and more-than-offset any unavoidable emissions by investing in nature-based carbon sinks.

The three pathways for the institution to achieve its sustainability goals identified within the strategy are:

  1. Action: Making changes to the way Kew operates across its sites and activities
  2. Expertise:  Leveraging Kew’s own expertise in collaboration with others
  3. Voice: Using Kew’s voice to educate and inform people about sustainable choices

Director of RBG Kew, Richard Deverell, says: “This new strategy and commitment to be climate positive by 2030 is the culmination of many years of work. Tackling the environmental emergency must sit at the very heart of everything we do and as a global plant science institution and visitor attraction we have a unique responsibility to act now. Failing to take urgent action will cost us severely and will leave us unprepared for the unprecedented challenges of the decades to come. This is just the start of a journey in which we will all need to play our part.” 

As part of this commitment, RBG Kew has now joined the Race to Zero, a UN-backed, global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors, for the necessary shift to a decarbonised economy that would prevent future threats, create decent jobs, and unlock inclusive, sustainable growth.  In the lead up to COP26 later this year, this is particularly timely.

Making urgent changes at Kew

The strategy lays out how RBG Kew intends to accelerate these plans, starting with its own operations and activities at its two UK sites, Kew Gardens in London and Wakehurst in Sussex.  So far, Kew’s sustainability progress includes:

  • Generating renewable energy from solar panels on the roof of the Millennium Seed Bank in Sussex, since 2012
  • Upgrading the two Kew Explorer vehicles on site at Kew Gardens to 100% electric power
  • Starting work to measure the carbon sequestration from the trees and land across both Kew Gardens and Wakehurst
  • Building sustainable, timber new buildings at Kew Gardens: the new Arboretum Headquarters and the Family Kitchen & Shop, opening later on this year
  • Installing the first net-zero-ready electric heat pump at Kew Gardens
  • Eliminating the vast majority of single-use plastic from food & drink outlets

Collaboration and Public

Delivering ambition on this scale requires a huge collaborative effort from the horticulture and scientific sectors, as well as the heritage and estates sectors, together with the wider public.

Visitors to Kew Gardens and Wakehurst (as well as digital followers) will be able to see some of this action come to life. For example, the new Family Kitchen & Shop due to open in Kew Gardens in autumn 2021 will have a real-time display showing the amount of energy generated from solar panels in the roof. Kew will also be working hard to encourage visitors to make greener choices by offering more plant-based food options in its catering facilities, encouraging visits to site by bicycle or public transport, and asking people to bring reusable cups.

Rachel Purdon, Head of Sustainability at RBG Kew says: “The environmental emergency requires more rapid and significant changes to the way we do things at Kew, at home, and across society. We cannot do this alone.  We want everyone to share the urgency and the commitment to change that underpins our ambitious new strategy.  Cross-sector partnerships and collaborations are vital, as is the engagement and action of our supporters and visitors in bringing about the change we desperately need to see to save our planet.”

Why now? A decade to decarbonise

Time is running out – rapid change must take place this decade if we are to prevent more than 1.5 degrees of warming, which will bring devastating consequences for people and nature.

In November this year, the UK will host what is arguably the most important climate change summit yet: COP26, in Glasgow. In recent years, the importance of leadership from partners from every sector of the global economy has become even more tangible, in supporting governments around the world to take the bold steps needed to steer the world back on course to a healthy, resilient future. It is imperative that organisations around the world take urgent action and build the momentum necessary for the summit’s success.

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