NAIROBI, Oct 31 (Swara) – More than 1,000 universities from 68 countries have made a range of new commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and transform their impact on nature, including a new initiative on nature-positive universities.

Over the last 12 months, academic institutions from across the globe have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, committing to reduce their carbon emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. The initiative has been led by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and Second Nature with support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

New commitments from institutions include commitments such as:

  • The Chiba University of Commerce to become the first university in Japan to run exclusively on renewable energy before 2025, as well as to establish the Renewable Energy University League of Japan.
  • The University of Glasgow, which has set a net-zero target of 2030, was the first university in the UK to declare it would divest from fossil fuels within a decade.
  • The University of Toronto has committed to develop a low-carbon action plan by 2030 with a range of interventions planned.

Nigel Topping, the UK’s High-Level Climate Action Champion said: “Higher education institutions have the power to redesign the future. Not only are universities, colleges and schools committing to ambitious decarbonisation plans; these institutions also have the capacity – and indeed the responsibility – to support and educate our leaders of tomorrow. It’s fantastic to see so many higher education institutions joining Race to Zero and I urge those who are not yet in to commit and take action now.”

The 1,050 higher education institutions which made pledges for the Race to Zero, and who represent close to 10 million students – or 4.5 per cent of the world’s 220 million students – must be consistent with the criteria provided by the Race to Zero’s Expert Peer Review Group, chaired by the University of Oxford. It is expected that many more universities will join the initiative in the coming months with regular reporting and checks to ensure that they hold true to their promise.

In addition to action on climate change, universities and colleges are also deepening their work for nature The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford introduced a new initiative at the forum, Nature Positive Universities, with the support of vice-chancellors and representatives from universities across the world, including IPB Indonesia, the University of Cape Town, Universidad de São Paulo, University of Ghana, and the University of Tasmania. The initiative, which will formally launch in 2022, will outline how universities can reduce their impact on nature by shifting their supply chains and restoring landscapes in their local areas.

“The higher education system oversees significant resources in human and financial capital, and how they deploy it can have a real impact on the planet. It is inspiring to see universities play a positive role in transitioning their institutions to being net zero and nature positive. Young people want to attend universities that are driving the environmental agenda forward – now the challenge is to scale this great work up from the progressive few to a standard procedure for all,” said Susan Gardner, Director of the Ecosystems Division at UNEP.

In addition to net-zero commitments and ambitions for nature, a new survey from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNEP has explored how Education and Environment Ministries in some 21 countries work together on this agenda. All countries studied, from Africa, Asia Pacific, West Asia, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, reported education for sustainable development and environmental education (ESD/EE) to be a national priority, yet clear gaps have been identified:

  • Lack of inter-ministerial cooperation on issues of ESD/EE: Although there are some promising models of collaboration between the Ministries of Education and Environment, many have not found the path to a strong and successful collaboration between ministries. In countries where promising models do exist, a lack around clarity of roles and capacity building deficits were commonly reported;
  • Little mention of higher education: A stronger focus on higher education is needed, as well as deeper engagement with ministries of higher education;
  • Stronger youth engagement is needed: Most countries indicated they consult youth on the design and development of EE/ESD; however, the active role of youth in the implementation or development of further programmes is unclear.

Source: UNEP