Friends of the Earth published their latest report (What are UK universities doing about climate change and the Paris Climate Agreement? ) yesterday acknowledging the significant role universities can play in responding to the challenges of climate change.
Universities play a pivotal role in understanding climate change and how to avoid its worst impacts. The UK is a world leader in academic research and advocacy on climate change. So, in March 2016 Friends of the Earth wrote to 40 UK universities and19 UK research councils and institutes asking them how their institutions were responding to the 1.5 degree challenge set in Paris.
The scale and breadth of action being taken across UK universities is impressive. But while most universities are doing many things, there are some major gaps. And universities could all be doing more about climate change.
But, as FoE state, whether you’re a student, a member of staff or simply live nearby, you might want to know how your university can help tackle climate change. They’ve outlined 10 top things a university can do to tackle climate change.
The top things a university can do to tackle climate change
- Promote a strong, positive vision of how the world can meet the Paris goals
- Focus emission reduction research on how to meet the Paris 1.5 degree goal
- Move away from research leading to extracting more fossil fuels
- Implement a climate change education programme for all students, also available to staff and residents and businesses in the city
- Be part of a global network of Universities committed to meeting the Paris climate goals
- Deliver a timetable plan to go zero-carbon across all operations
- Divest from all funds from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction by 2020
- Ensure only companies with a 1.5 degree-compatible business strategy can attend careers-fairs
- Implement a strategy to cope with the climate impacts which can no longer be avoided
- Embed responsibility for delivery of this strategy with the University Senior Leadership Team
The leading institutions are doing many of these things. There is sometimes [often] a disconnect between how universities operate and what they research and teach but the best are tackling campus, community and curriculum with equal measure. There are some very specific ‘things’ listed above – with the kind of prescription that tends to create difficulties within universities. It’s fair to say that many are looking at elements of the above but broadly speaking we’re all, to a greater or lesser extent, seeking to reduce carbon emissions from our operations (fossil fuel consumption, etc), from our supply chains (harder) and investments (ongoing), and to embed sustainability into our teaching. As the report rightly suggests, there is significant world-class research being undertaken across the piece.
Paris sets the framework for Government policy. I hope that means universities remain committed to achieving the carbon reduction targets they have set and that Government seeks to direct research funding towards climate change research that will decarbonise our lives (and quickly). If there’s one real challenge it’s turning research into learning and into policy and practice. Often that process is very long indeed and we don’t have time.
In the meantime, universities should consider how they are preparing themselves for climate change. Climate adaptation remains the poor relation to greenhouse gas reduction and this has been illustrated in the rollout of the Green Scorecard developed by the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) where there remains an acknowledgement that this is an undeveloped area. Issues of flood risk, heat islands, supply chains and international impacts remain poorly understood.