Networks representing universities across the globe have joined forces to declare a climate emergency and commit to action in research and teaching.
The collective commitment to addressing climate change has been organised by EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, US-based higher education climate action organisation Second Nature and UN Environment’s Youth and Education Alliance.
Representing more than 7,000 higher and further education institutions from six continents, 25 university networks have agreed to undertake a three-point plan to help address the crisis.
This involves committing to going carbon neutral by 2030, or 2050 at the very latest; to more action-oriented climate change research; and to increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across the curriculum and campus.
There are also 58 institutions, representing approximately 592,000 students, that have signed up individually. They include institutions as diverse as the University of Glasgow and King’s College London in the UK, California State University in the US, Strathmore University in Kenya, Tongji University in China, Zayed University in the UAE and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico.
Organisers expect more than 10,000 institutions to come on board before the end of 2019 and are encouraging governments to offer incentives to taking action.
“What we teach shapes the future,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment.
“We welcome this commitment from universities to go climate neutral by 2030 and to scale up their efforts on campus.”
Kat Thorne, director of sustainability at King’s College London, said that students are extremely “switched on” when it comes to climate change.
She added that it was “incredibly important” that universities across the world are collaborating on declaring a climate emergency.
With many universities still not having set net zero carbon targets, there is still much more to do “in terms of taking the urgent action required for climate change”, she continued.
King’s has committed to net zero carbon by 2025, on the back of student and staff campaigns in 2017.
“We know that carrying on as we are is not going to achieve the kind of carbon reduction change in our society that we need to achieve to effectively be net zero as a society by 2050, and organisations like ours need to be achieving it before that,” added Ms Thorne.
The declaration comes amid calls for UK universities to do more to tackle the climate emergency, including Joy Carter, vice-chancellor of the University of Winchester, warning that universities “are sleepwalking into a major environmental disaster”.
Chris Skidmore, the universities and science minister, has also called for UK universities to lead the way in becoming carbon neutral.
And the University and College Union, which represents more than 120,000 higher education staff in the UK, is to submit a motion at September’s TUC Congress, calling for a “30-minute solidarity climate stoppage” in the workday, to coincide with the global school student strike on 20 September.
The union’s motion responds to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s call for adults to join the strike.
Jo Grady, the UCU’s incoming general secretary, tweeted: “Climate is a trade union issue. Trade unionists must play a central role in shaping the way society’s economic and social organisations meet the needs of future generations and the planet.”