Universities have the power to create exciting, connected and inclusive cities – here’s how

It may not be obvious to the casual visitor, but many of the links between global cities are actually mirrored in the relationships between universities around the world. Both universities and cities thrive when their people are connected, and the fates of both these institutions are closely tied to their leaders’ ability to improve local areas and attract talented people. Read more of James Ransom‘s blog.

In a blog I wrote in April 2014 I said “The discipline of quantifying the contribution of universities in terms of their economic and social ‘good’ is no easy task. This shouldn’t be simply a justification – but more a recognition of the netpositive effect universities can have – and not just socially and economically, but environmentally too.”

Over a year ago, The University of Nottingham reported that it contributes £1.1bn a year to the UK economy and supports around 18,000 jobs across the country according to a new report‘The Economic Impact of The University of Nottingham’ – outlines the wider economic, social and cultural impact the University has on the city of Nottingham, the region and the nation.

According to the report, the University is one of the East Midlands’ most significant institutions, with 92 per cent of its workforce living in the region, and one in every 24 jobs in Nottingham being reliant in some part on the University. The total economic impact generated across the East Midlands each year by the University is £781m, and along with its £500m research portfolio, the University is at the heart of the Midlands Engine for Growth.

The report helped to demonstrate the importance of the University’s contribution to the city and it has helped to build ever closer ties between ‘town and gown’ with both the City and its universities recognising they have a symbiotic and dependent relationship. James’ research clearly reinforces that for the four cities in scope of his studies but the same is true of every city and town with large colleges and universities. Not, in itself, surprising, but important to remember.

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The vast majority of the UK’s air quality problem is the unregulated pollutants from road traffic. Predominantly as a result of particulate matter from the combustion of diesel and petrol. The fact that DEFRA retain responsibility for air quality and has no real influence over anyone, let alone DfT, is at the heart of this issue. Don’t get me wrong, DEFRA do a good job in developing and implementing policies which regulate other industries but without regulation and new policies air quality is not going to improve soon. I am very disappointed in the draft plan published today. There is nothing bold, imaginative or impressive about this wishy washy report.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39818083

Metro mayors are a chance for new green leadership

However your city or city region is governed there has to be stronger leadership on this agenda. The 6 city mayoral winners have a big challenge to deliver what their individual component authorities may well have failed on. Yes, Bristol has shown how it can be done and London has had *some* success but has, arguably, the biggest challenges too. I would like to see Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham use this as an opportunity to accelerate the ownership of this issue within the Mayor’s office. In time, perhaps, and if, Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham get to a position of agreeing a mayoral election, they might see the opportunities too.

Inside track

Fotolia_9704004_SThe general election may be the immediate focus of political commentary but, today, elections in six city regions will bring an important new tier of political decision making to England that will be worth watching. The election of new metro mayors will unlock the devolution of powers and budgets to the city region level, giving Westminster the confidence to hand power down.

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Local places must seize the opportunities of adaptation, or risk being left behind

Reflections of a climate resilience practitioner

The way places develop and grow are increasingly being linked to their climate resilience.

Ask anyone who works on climate change and they’ll tell you the jury is still out on whether we’ll really get a handle on tackling it. On the one hand we have the fantastic success of the Paris deal. On the other, the recent U.S. election throws doubt on how quickly the low carbon transition will take hold.

Even before the election, the political ambition was at odds with the reality. INDCs, the technical terminology for each countries’ emission reduction pledges, put us on a trajectory of around 2 and a half degrees whilst the EU thinks to get to the 1.5 degree target of warming, we’ll need negative emissions technologies.

It’s no surprise then, that the World Economic Forum highlight failure to adapt to climate change as one of their top ten risks of…

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How can universities respond to climate change?

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.

In Friends of the Earth’s view, there is a colossal amount of high quality research and advocacy on climate change being undertaken in UK academic institutions, with the UK being a clear lead country in the physical science of climate change, but also in research on how countries can cut emissions, and on the technological, cultural, social and economic implications of doing so.
FoE feel that overall academic institutions are setting a strong example to other sectors of society on the urgency of climate change, with much genuinely world-leading research and advocacy. However the responses to Paris in many places should be stepped up, and there are also some glaring contradictions within institutions, where often actions go against the Paris Agreement goals.
Many but not all institutions explicitly mentioned the new 1.5 degree imperative from Paris.Some institutions have already changed their research plans or activities to address  the 1.5 degree issues, others intend to. Other institutions stated that their climate change plans are already very strong and that Paris does not materially change this work.
But, there is probably universal agreement that there is always more that could be done. In a blog of December 2015 I referenced a piece by Jane Carter in the Times Higher Education  “All universities should be teaching students about the causes, the impact, the history, the solutions, the economics and the politics of climate change.” In May last year, my blog picked up on a piece published on Edie.net – “Higher student fees influencing university emissions cuts” – in which the assertion that increased tuition fees and competition among UK universities have created a generation of evermore demanding students which is complicating the sector’s attempts to reduce emissions. Of course, it’s just not that simple.

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

  1. Promote a strong, positive vision of how the world can meet the Paris goals
  2. Focus emission reduction research on how to meet the Paris 1.5 degree goal
  3. Move away from research leading to extracting more fossil fuels
  4. Implement a climate change education programme for all students, also available to staff and residents and businesses in the city
  5. Be part of a global network of Universities committed to meeting the Paris climate goals
  6. Deliver a timetable plan to go zero-carbon across all operations
  7. Divest from all funds from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction by 2020
  8. Ensure only companies with a 1.5 degree-compatible business strategy can attend careers-fairs
  9. Implement a strategy to cope with the climate impacts which can no longer be avoided
  10. 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.