Global universities pledge to reverse biodiversity damage

Nature Positive Universities Alliance launched at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal

December 8, 2022
Belarus, Gomel, April 21, 2018. The Central District. Tree planting. Residents of the city plant trees
Source: iStock

More than 100 universities worldwide have formed a new partnership designed to reverse the ecological damage they have caused.

Institutions in the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, launched at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, have begun assessing their environmental impact.

Co-led by the University of Oxford and UN Environment Programme, 117 universities from across 48 countries have signed a pledge to halt, prevent and reverse nature loss through restoring ecosystems harmed by their activities.

The campaign is part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a movement to avert climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

E.J. Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis professor of biodiversity at Oxford and co-founder of the group, said: “As universities, we occupy a unique position in educating future leaders, researching solutions to environmental challenges, and influencing our communities and governments.

“By addressing our own institutions’ environmental impacts, we can be powerful thought leaders while also directly contributing to restoring nature.”

Universities have made individual pledges to address their impacts on nature, including carrying out assessments, setting specific targets, taking “bold action” and participating in transparent annual reporting.

It is hoped that by tackling their own supply chains, universities can show the wider community how to address climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

It builds Oxford’s track record in setting a dual environmental target of biodiversity net gain and net zero carbon by 2035.

“These targets for large institutions are challenging to achieve, but through collaboration and idea-sharing with other universities via the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, we can collectively make progress towards achieving biodiversity net gain,” said Harriet Waters, head of environmental sustainability at Oxford.

Examples of initiatives have included establishing nature-friendly infrastructure, contributing to afforestation and restoration and improving the supply chain through sustainable catering.

A further 408 universities have formed part of a wider network who are developing research and lobbying senior management to help meet their own environmental targets.

Over 100 students from dozens of countries have also joined a student ambassador programme to take action towards nature positive awareness on their campuses.

And the Nature Positive Universities Alliance is calling on other institutions to join its efforts and make their own pledges.

Sam Barratt, chief of youth, education and advocacy at the UNEP, said: “We are delighted to see universities will be joining hands to reset our relationship with nature so that, through this alliance, new action and possibilities are created.”

patrick.jack@timeshighereducation.com

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