We call for UEA to declare a climate emergency and commit to carbon neutrality by 2025.
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Professor David Richardson, Vice Chancellor, Vice Chancellor’s Office, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ
We expect that you are well aware of the science for anthropogenic climate change. The IPCC’s 1.5 degree special report[i] published October 2018 confirms that humans have already caused irreversible climate change and global temperatures have already increased by 1°C from pre-industrial levels. Limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C may still just be possible if decisive action is taken immediately. But ordinary people around the world are discouraged by the apparent lack of leadership evident at this time of crisis.
We, concerned students and staff of UEA, therefore request that the University declares a ‘climate emergency’ as a matter of urgency, and, building on actions already taken, shows its leadership in taking further steps commensurate with the urgency of de-carbonisation.
What does declaring a ‘climate emergency’ mean?
An emergency is a life-threatening situation, and an effective response depends on acknowledgement of the emergency, which transcends other concerns. Such a ‘climate emergency’ declaration would represent an honest acknowledgement of the extent and urgency of the climate crisis – something that has generally been lacking in public media. Continued lack of recognition facilitates denial and inaction.
Why should the University declare a ‘climate emergency’?
Universities are institutions that champion knowledge, and evidence-based action. It therefore aligns with universities’ core purpose to communicate truth. The climate emergency is by far the greatest threat to humanity. Universities in the UK have recently begun to join other organisations and institutions across the country and the world in declaring a ‘climate emergency’ (see recent ‘climate emergency’ declarations by the University of Bristol and Newcastle University).[ii] UEA is ideally positioned to join this vanguard of universities championing change. It is held in high esteem for the quality of its environmental and climate change research and, in the Tyndall Centre, UEA hosts one of the world’s leading climate change research units. UEA has recently signed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) Accord,[iii] positioning it among a growing number of universities taking positive steps towards creating a sustainable future. It is part of the University’s long-term strategic vision to consolidate its leadership position in climate change research through initiatives such as Climate@UEA.
UEA has led the world in research that has demonstrated the severe threats to human wellbeing from climate change. It is therefore ethically incumbent upon UEA to actually take action to curb its own contribution to these threats, and also demonstrate to others the correct response to this threat.
We recognise that UEA has a Sustainability Policy and Carbon Management Plan and that, per-capita, CO2 equivalent emissions have been reduced. However, scientific evidence and the precautionary principle leave no doubt that a more ambitious plan is needed. We therefore ask that UEA demonstrates its leadership on climate change issues and its commitment to sustainability by joining other universities in formally declaring a climate emergency, and by taking immediate actions in line with such a declaration. This would set a precedent for other universities across the country to follow, maintain UEA’s credibility as a leader in this arena, and help galvanise the UK government to mount the necessary emergency response.
Over forty councils in the UK have already declared a ‘climate emergency’ or committed to rapid de-carbonisation.[iv] Recent Youth Strike 4 Climate actions in the UK – and Norfolk[v] – have shown that young people across the country are conscious of the need for immediate decisive action, and unwilling to condone the inaction of those in positions of authority any longer.
The environmental principles of UEA attract both staff and students eager to bring their passion and expertise to the task of mounting the necessary emergency response. A number of academics from the University of East Anglia have recently signed an open letter demanding that the government acknowledge the emergency and commit to carbon neutrality as the highest priority. This petition is further evidence that student and staff support for radical action on climate change is considerable and growing.
As part of addressing the emergency, we hereby ask you to commit to the following key actions:
- Formally declare a ‘climate emergency’.
- Commit to the target of carbon neutrality by 2025, in accordance with the precautionary principle.
- Appoint a senior staff member of the Executive Team with the responsibility for achieving this target.
- Create a consultative forum to harness the passion and expertise available among UEA staff and students to mount the necessary emergency response.
Implementing these key actions could involve (but is in no way limited to) the following practical steps:
- Adequately resource the Sustainability Team, including by appointing sufficient staff.
- Produce an itemised and resourced plan to ensure carbon reduction is maximised in the refurbishment of any building stock going forwards.[vi]
- Actively seek to track, reduce and report CO2e emissions, including Scope 3 emissions,[vii] for instance by adopting the Tyndall Travel Tracker as university policy.
- Embed the principles of Education for Sustainability (EFS/ESD) into all learning and teaching going forwards to maximise the positive effect of the UEA on a global stage.[viii]
- Adequately resource existing initiatives such as the on-campus Norwich Bicycle Repair Co-operative (“Dr Bike”)[ix] and the sustainable “Travel Plan” as part of a wider effort to foster a regime change towards sustainable travel and commuting.
We believe it to be paramount that you take a leading role in facilitating a climate emergency declaration and response. We hope you are able to appreciate the urgency of this request and are ready to discuss any aspect of this matter with you.
Extinction Rebellion UEA
Extinction Rebellion’s key demands: https://rebellion.earth/demands/
[ii] See http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/april/climate-emergency-.html and https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2019/04/climateemergency/?fbclid=IwAR2hXH49G7yCjJ_GvQizVL3XtRngJgNS-so4iQT4bswJ0EkGq9uqgtxOWjM
[v] See Eastern Daily Press (2019). ’We have 12 years before it is irreversible‘ - students hold second climate change protest in Norwich (15 March). https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/environment/norfolk-students-second-climate-change-norwich-protest-1-5940753
[vi] We understand there are constraints related to this aim, specifically the listed nature of much of the University’s infrastructure. We urge the University to seek innovative solutions to these challenges in accordance with the fact that this is an emergency.
[vii] Scope 1 refer to direct emissions. Scope 2 refers to emissions associated with purchased electricity and heat. Scope 3 refers to emissions from staff and student travel, procurement, and food provision.
[viii] Education for sustainability / Education for Sustainable Development, representing current cutting edge research on the subject.
[ix] This includes providing them with running water, larger workspace and a stable internet connection.
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