CAST supports Cardiff University’s Climate Emergency Declaration

Cardiff University has declared a climate emergency and announced its aim to become carbon neutral by 2030. Cardiff University is our host institution and we’re pleased to have been able to support the University Executive Board in their discussions around the climate emergency.

Universities around the world are responding to the crisis and unprecedented levels of public concern in different ways. In April Bristol University became the first in the UK to declare a climate emergency, announcing that they had reduced their carbon emissions by 27 percent since 2015 and are on track to achieve their target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Many other universities have since followed, including Goldsmiths, University of London which has set a 2025 carbon-neutral goal, removed beef and bottled water from campus catering, and pledged to offer students opportunities to learn about climate topics.

In addition to universities, various sectors and professional bodies have added their voice to the movement. Over 700 organisations and individuals including museums, artists, and arts and culture organisations have joined Culture Declares while the urgent need to reduce emissions is recognised by emergency declarations from RIBA, The British Medical Association, The Institution of Structural Engineers and other professional bodies.

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan explains that today’s declaration comes after months of discussion on “how the University can contribute to the movement in a more than symbolic way.” With the announcement of the declaration Professor Riordan said:

“With today’s statement, we are adding our weight to the global response to the climate emergency.We must ensure our voice is heard in the fight against climate change, drawing on our pioneering research to leverage discussions, action and solutions to the climate crisis.”

In September our centre Director, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, was invited to help the University Executive Board understand the most important environmental changes facing the University. As well as exploring predicted changes in policy, technology, and society as a result of the climate crisis, Professor Whitmarsh was able to highlight the potential for Cardiff to be at the forefront of a low-carbon transition and examine the co-benefits of rapid climate action. These include improved student and staff wellbeing, cost-saving, and improved inclusion and diversity. You can read the full discussion here. In response to today’s news Professor Whitmarsh said:

“We are delighted that the University has declared a climate emergency and have set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. CAST are committed to helping the University realise this ambition by recognising that staff and students can act as agents of change and applying our research and expert knowledge to supporting both individual and organisational low carbon choices. Taking rapid climate action has the potential for co-benefits across every area of Cardiff University’s work.”

So what does declaring a climate emergency mean in practice for Cardiff University?

  • A goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030
  • The appointment of a Dean for Environmental Sustainability
  • Full divestment from fossil fuels. The University confirmed today that this has been achieved a year ahead of schedule.
  • A focus on transferring research knowledge directly to staff, students and the wider community, ensuring it informs the University’s own activities.
  • Revising a number of university policies to encourage a reduction in emissions.
  • Piloting the Regrow Borneo, an initiative that allows donors to invest in local community tree planting initiatives aimed at restoring depleted rainforest and helping save endangered species.

Professor Mike Bruford, co-director of the University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute, has been appointed to the position of Dean for Environmental Sustainability. Professor Bruford said:

“The climate crisis requires an urgent response and, from now on, we intend to do things differently. We must act quickly. Right across the University there are examples of cutting-edge research, new insights and ground-breaking science. This includes the work of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations – the first such centre to place people at the heart of the fundamental transformation required to tackle climate change.”

In advance of COP25, now taking place in Madrid, higher education institutions and networks have been invited to sign a Global Climate Letter pledging to support Sustainable Development Goals 4 (Education) and 13 (Climate Change). Cardiff University has today joined with 230 institutions, 55 higher education networks and 7 students unions in signing this letter.

Last week, on November 21st, Cardiff University Students Union approved a ‘Radical Environmental Policy’. As a result, the SU will:

  • Create and begin distributing a ‘Tell the Truth’ campaign about the climate and ecological crises on campus by the end of the next academic term. 
  • Lobby the University to communicate the truth about these crises to students by the end of the next academic term.
  • Commit to both halting any biodiversity loss in its actions and a carbon net-zero target of 2025. 
  • Lobby the University to commit immediately, in its environmental policy, to halting any biodiversity loss in its actions and to a carbon net-zero target of 2025.

Putting a declaration of climate emergency into practice is not without its challenges for large institutions. Professor Calvin Jones, Deputy Dean for Public Value and External Relations, notes that “academics [are] perceived as amongst the worst offenders in terms of international business travel” and that while only 3% of the Cardiff Business School’s carbon footprint came from international academic travel, 30% came from international student travel from home to the university. “This effectively means the School can never be ‘Paris compliant’ with its current business model … yet our international students currently comprise well over half our School income.”

Read the full text of the University’s declaration here.

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