On 9 December 2020, the University of Essex joined many organisations around the world in declaring a climate and ecological emergency.
This declaration recognises the impact we have on the local, national and global environment and the need:
Initial work – examining impact, biodiversity and emissions – is already underway.
In January, we will be launching a far-reaching consultation, looking again at everything we do, in the context of the climate and ecological emergency. This review will include our approach to both teaching and research. We hope you will join this conversation and share your thoughts and expertise.
This twin-track process will result in a comprehensive Climate Action Plan, including a target date for achieving net zero emissions.
"As a University community, we acknowledge the considerable impact that our activities have on the local, national and global environment, and that we have a responsibility to act decisively."
"Protecting the environment and caring about our future and the next generation's future is everybody's responsibility, simply because we live here on Earth."
In recent years, we have made real progress on sustainability. It has become clear, though, that more decisive action is required. The need to agree a new Sustainability Sub-Strategy (SSS), which will guide the University's approach for years to come, provides the opportunity to deliver a step change in our approach. The consultation that will follow our declaration of a climate emergency is timed so that all sections of our university community can contribute to the formulation of the SSS.
“We felt passionately that we should only make this declaration when we had something to back it up. We have clear next steps on our journey to reduce our environmental impact and to reach net zero carbon emissions. I would urge everyone to get involved and share their thoughts.”
Setting a target date for achieving net zero is a serious commitment. We are undertaking work to better understand how our emissions are produced, what measures need to be taken to reduce them and the resources required. This will allow us to determine when we aim to reach net zero. To achieve our goals will require significant behavioural change from us all, so it is vital that everyone’s voices are heard, to deliver an action plan that is both ambitious and achievable.
“The climate is in crisis. As an institution, we have a significant impact on the environment and we need to be taking steps to make a difference. I hope all sections of our community will join this conversation and share their expertise.”
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). International policies (particularly the 2016 Paris Agreement) are seeking to limit increases in global temperature by a further +0.5 to +1.0oC.
It is vital that the University plays a leading role in delivering net zero emissions. This is not a threat, but an opportunity to deliver excellence in education and research in novel and effective ways.
Header image - Climate Emergency: Forest Fires in Siberia, photograph © Julia Petrenko / Greenpeace.