Following discussion at the University Steering Group (USG) on 11 February 2020, it was agreed that the importance and urgency of climate issues requires a formal, coordinated response that draws on all key areas within the University. This decision was endorsed by Council at its meeting on 24 February 2020. This decision was galvanised by the submission of a petition, signed by over 1,000 students and staff, calling on the University to declare a climate emergency.

On the 1 September 2020 the formation of a Climate Emergency Group (CEG) was approved by USG and the first meeting of the group took place on the 9 September 2020.

The CEG will:

  • Recommend to USG and Council whether the University should declare a climate emergency.
  • Recommend a date for when the University will aim to reach carbon neutrality/net zero emissions.
  • Recommend the overall aims, themes, objectives and targets of the Sustainability Sub-Strategy (due Spring 2021).
  • Recommend timescales for the review and monitoring of the Sustainability Sub-Strategy.

The group will lead on the work of creating, recommending to USG and Council for approval, and ensuring delivery of, the University’s most ambitious Sustainability Sub-Strategy (SSS) to date. By successfully doing this the group will not only reduce the University’s environmental impact and climate-related costs, but also help attract future generations of students who care passionately about the climate; they will want to be part of a University that is taking responsible and decisive action.

The Group comprises members from across the University, representing key areas that have a crucial role in embedding change, from the SU, Research and Education, People and Culture, Estates and Campus Services, Sustainability, Finance and Trades Unions, as well as external expertise on carbon reduction. Bringing together these areas will foster joined-up thinking and encourage broad embedding of sustainability in all that we do.

There is clear scientific evidence that anthropogenic climate change is now a reality. The global temperature has already increased by +1oC since pre-industrial levels, when carbon in the atmosphere was at 280 ppm (parts per million). Today, carbon concentrations are 413 ppm, and rising at approximately +2ppm per year. It is widely accepted that a safe operating space for humanity is 350 ppm (the levels passed in 1990).

It is vital that the University plays a leading role in delivering net zero emissions and sustainability is incorporated into our work and study. This is not a threat, but an opportunity to deliver excellence in education and research in novel and effective ways. It will also be an opportunity to demonstrate leadership as one of the largest employers in the north of the county.

Everything that we do has an impact on the planet, whether we realise it or not. While work has been done for many years on raising awareness and addressing our infrastructure, it is now time for the whole community to come together and be the change we want to see, through collaboration and individual responsibility.

Updates on the Group’s actions will follow in the coming months. While we do not yet have all the answers, we are committed to developing a plan of action that is more ambitious and future-thinking than we have produced before.