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The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mobility-Related GHG Emissions of the University of Oldenburg and Proposals for Reductions

Published: 20 July 2021
 by  MDPI
Sustainability , Volume 13; doi:10.3390/su13148103

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of human life, including mobility. In a local context, the University of Oldenburg (Germany) suspended all in-person lectures and business trips in March 2020, affecting the energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the community. This paper presents the evaluation of emissions resulting from mobility associated with the University of Oldenburg before and after the COVID-19 restrictions, including commuting and business trips. Moreover, five scenarios targeting a reduction in emissions related to mobility are proposed and analyzed. The GHG emissions were calculated using specific emissions factors for each mode of transport, distance data obtained via a survey, and official university data. Overall, the results have revealed a substantial decrease in emissions in the summer semester 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The estimated GHG emissions reduction relative to the average emissions of the prior two semesters (pre-COVID-19) is 79% for commuting (equivalent to 1934 tCO2e), and 69% for business trips (equivalent to 888.6 tCO2e). Furthermore, the commuting emissions are 1.9 times higher than business trip emissions in summer and winter 2019, and 1.3 times higher in summer 2020. With respect to proposals for reductions, the most effective scenario for reducing GHG emissions considers a hybrid semester assuming one day a week without commuting, which is estimated to achieve a 15% emissions reduction relative to the baseline emissions. The paper thus shows the importance of commuting-related GHG emissions in a university higher education context as well as first approaches to reduce them. This study may be useful as a guidance for the University of Oldenburg in its efforts to reduce GHG emissions by providing a quantitative basis and scenarios for prioritizing and reducing mobility emissions. Beyond that, it provides comparative metrics for other institutions with similar characteristics.
Keywords: mobility emissions / COVID-19 / Scope 3 GHG emissions / scenarios / university carbon footprint

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