Warnings from environmentalists about the dangers of climate change have become louder and louder over the past few years. If we don’t drastically cut carbon emissions, there could be serious repercussions for the planet.
Many universities are providing great examples of how to combat climate change through pledging zero carbon emissions, refitting buildings to be more energy-efficient and arming students with the knowledge and skills to make individual changes.
The United Nations Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) look to tackle some of today’s biggest global issues and SDG 13 covers climate action.
As part of the University Impact Rankings, Times Higher Education has produced a ranking focusing on how universities are contributing to climate action. Some of the measures considered as part of the ranking are low carbon energy use, the presence of a university-wide climate action plan, and working with local or national government to address climate change planning. You can read more about the methodology here.
Top five universities for climate action
1. University of British Columbia
Since 2010, the University of British Columbia has had a climate action plan in place called Climate Action 2020. Some of the measures laid out in the plan include aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent by 2050, to use the university as a lab to develop climate change solutions and to take full account for the costs of its decisions on sustainability.
The university also organises UBC Reads Sustainability, a forum where students across disciplines can discuss issues on sustainability. The forum is part book club, part lecture series.
The university has a website dedicated to sustainability, where students can find out more about what the university is doing to be more sustainable, upcoming events, tips on how to be more environmentally friendly and student groups on climate action.
2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s sustainability programme, the Three Zeros Environment Initiative, was established in 2016. The initiative aims to reduce the campus environmental footprint in three ways: net zero water, zero waste to landfills and net zero greenhouse gases. The university marks its progress across these goals on the programme’s website.
A number of projects are in progress at the university to help achieve these goals. Some of these include low-water fixtures to reduce water waste, providing reusable take-out containers at food outlets and bikes on campus to reduce car usage.
3. University at Buffalo
The University at Buffalo aims to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 2030. This is part of a wider climate action plan that was put together in 2009 to explore the different ways in which the university could reduce its environmental impact.
Some of these measures include introducing a car-sharing programme for staff and students and encouraging students to use other modes of transport, to offer students environmentally-themed courses and incorporate sustainability into all courses across the curriculum.
4. Laval University
As part of its approach to become a more sustainable institution, the University of Laval has introduced several projects to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These include the design of the university's new sports venue, the TELUS-Université Laval Stadium. Very little air conditioning is used because the design of the building and the large windows facilitate natural ventilation. The stadium is also connected to the university’s weather station so that windows can be closed if a storm is detected.
In some buildings such as the Adrien-Pouliot building, the heating and air conditioning systems were refitted for energy efficiency and results showed a 30 per cent reduction in energy consumption.
5. University of Waterloo
The Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change at the University of Waterloo has developed a number of initiatives that involve students in the climate change conversation.
The Climate Students Group brings together students across study levels and disciplines to discuss and act on climate change.
Many students on campus are also actively involved in research around climate change, including the impact of climate on coastal tourism, the impact of the mining industry on low and middle income countries and the transmission of malaria in relation to climate change.