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The University of Southampton

Southampton joins alliance of top universities urging G20 leaders to prioritise net zero emissions

Published: 18 November 2020

An international coalition of leading climate research universities - including the University of Southampton - have issued a declaration ahead of this weekend’s G20 Summit (21 and 22 November 2020) for global leaders to prioritise net zero emissions.

The International Universities Climate Alliance spans all populated continents, representing one-third of the 100 highest performing climate research universities and a quarter of the top 100 environmental research universities worldwide.

The Alliance declaration implores world leaders to use the post-COVID recovery to implement measures to counteract climate change, warning that failure to do so will lock in catastrophic consequences for generations to come. The advent of the Climate Alliance comes at a time when momentum is building for countries to decarbonise their economies. In recent months there have been moves by various nations to fortify incremental efforts with policies and actions equal to the urgency of the situation.

“Now is the time for action, we need to shift our behaviours, provide technological solutions at pace and work collectively across international boundaries to achieve global change,” says Professor Rachel Mills , Southampton’s Dean of Environmental and Life Sciences and Sustainability Champion for the University. “The IUCA Declaration is a call to arms for G20 leaders and we commit to work together to achieve these goals via our new ambitious University Sustainability Strategy.”

The Climate Alliance declaration was shared and discussed via a live online launch in the UK involving a panel of university experts and representatives on climate change and sustainability including Emily Harrison, Southampton’s Sustainability Stakeholder Engagement Co-ordinator.

“As individuals we all have our part to play in combatting climate change but really it’s governments and big corporations that are going to be able to make the most difference,” says Emily. “By joining with Universities across the globe, we are able to have a much more powerful voice than we would individually and hopefully can influence them to act now. Universities have and continue to be a vital hub of change and, together, we can have a huge impact in encouraging more sustainable actions from the leaders of today and shaping our students who will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

UK climate experts, including a number of academics from Southampton, have a long history of supporting national and international decision-makers with the evidence-base for climate action including contributions to United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, UK Climate Change Risk Assessments, UK carbon budgets and regional climate assemblies.

Southampton’s invitation to join the Climate Alliance earlier this year demonstrates an international recognition of the University’s strength and commitment to deploying its multi-disciplinary expertise in research, education and other activities to focus on the causes and potential alleviation of the effects of climate change. This commitment drives the University forward to take sustainable steps to address urgent environmental issues using the passion, creativity and scholarship of students and staff to discover and adopt new, lasting solutions.

To demonstrate its own long-term commitment to reducing its impact on the environment, Southampton recently signed the Global Universities and Colleges Climate Letter to commit the University to being net-zero.

Earlier this month, Southampton also launched a new Sustainability Strategy, jointly with the Students’ Union, which features joint ambitions in six clear goals directly linked to the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals:

  • Achieve net zero emissions for direct emissions that the University controls (mainly from fuel combustion on site) and indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used by the University by 2030;
  • Measure our total emissions footprint and set targets for reducing other indirect emissions from sources the University doesn’t own or control. Including emissions related to travel, waste and water;
  • Adopt a value-based approach to reduce emissions from business travel;
  • Ensure that sustainability is a part of every University education programme by 2025;
  • Make sustainability a cornerstone of the University’s research and societal impact;
  • Implement a sustainable and ethical investment policy.

“Carbon dioxide levels continue to rise despite the global impact of COVID-19 on society,” said Professor Mills. “We need to take urgent action at local, regional and global level if we are to keep warming within a few degrees and avoid catastrophic tipping points in the Earth’s climate system.

“Our Sustainability Strategy puts the University on the necessary path to net zero carbon and aligns all of our activity with this important goal,” she concluded. “Our research and our graduates will all contribute to the global effort to address this planetary crisis.”

The Climate Alliance provides a central hub for universities to share the latest climate research and enable greater collaboration between leading research teams. The Alliance is unprecedented in scale and scope and will support world leaders, policy makers and industry in planning for, and responding to, climate change.

Professor Ian Jacobs, President and Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Sydney in Australia, a founding member of the Alliance, said he and his colleagues recognised the need for experts with diverse voices to speak out about the climate crisis.

“Many challenges lie ahead of us in combatting the existential crisis in which the world finds itself. The International Universities Climate Alliance is a rich resource upon which governments, business, industry and the wider community can rely for evidence-based expert advice.”

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