Universities and the climate emergency

This week I was delighted to speak at important event organised by Universities UK (UUK) on the role of universities in tackling the climate emergency.

I was part of a panel exploring how universities can embed sustainability and create cleaner, greener campuses. Hosted by Dr Heidi Smith from Swansea University, we were joined by James Rolfe (Anglia Ruskin University), Sivi Sivanesan (Kingston University) and Clare Oxborrow (Friends of the Earth).

It was inspiring to hear the range of work other universities are doing. Sivi Sivanesan spoke of the biodiversity work happening at Kingston, and the importance of their volunteer network in driving this forward. James Rolfe shared some of the bold policies Anglia Ruskin have adopted, including on travel and single use plastics. Clare Oxborrow also gave a great talk on sustainability and food, highlighting the importance of engagement in this area.

I was pleased to be able to share some of the work we are doing at Goldsmiths to tackle the climate emergency, including PLAN25 – our action plan to cut carbon use – launched last year as part of our Green New Deal project.

I spoke of the importance of buy-in from across the university to make action on climate change happen. And I also talked about the kind of detailed, practical planning that is so key to making progress on big organisational pledges. It is one thing for an institution to state a goal, but much harder to map out how to get there.

I’m incredibly grateful to colleagues across departments at Goldsmiths who are working to help us adapt our College to have a more positive environmental impact – and to the students and staff who campaigned so passionately for Goldsmiths to take decisive action on climate change.

What is clear to me – and I think to everyone who spoke on the UUK panel – is that all universities have the chance to make a significant impact on these issues. As higher education institutions, our reach is vast: from the towns and boroughs we call home, to the businesses we engage to procure goods and services, and to our global research partnerships.

We are educating a generation who will be profoundly impacted by climate change, and it is our duty to make sure students are equipped to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

As we edge closer to November’s COP26 summit, reminding ourselves of this responsibility feels more important than ever. As terrible as this crisis has been, we now have an opportunity to rethink the impacts of our universities and build a more sustainable future. We can achieve a great deal on our own – but far more by working with our partners.

You can find out more about UUK’s Climate Emergency event on their website. For more on the Goldsmiths Green New Deal project, visit the Goldsmiths website.