10 July 2019: Universities and other institutions from six continents have declared a climate emergency in a letter detailing a three-point plan to address the climate crisis ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in September. The letter is part of ‘The SDG Accord,’ the university and college sector’s collective response to the SDGs.

The letter explains that young people must have the knowledge, skills and capacity to respond to the climate challenge, and outlines support for: mobilizing additional resources for climate change research and skills creation; committing to carbon neutrality by 2030 or 2050 at the latest; and increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curricula, campuses and community outreach programmes.

The letter recognizes the need for a drastic societal shift to address the climate threat, and calls on governments and other education institutions to join in declaring a climate emergency and taking actions to address climate change.

The letter, organized by The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC), Second Nature and the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Youth and Education Alliance, marks the first time higher education establishments have collectively committed to address the climate crisis. It was shared during a 10 July 2019 meeting of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, ahead of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September 2019.

The letter was signed by universities from, inter alia, Kenya, China, France, the UK, the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Mexico, and global education networks, such as the Global Alliance and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, which have committed to carbon neutrality. Currently, 87 institutions representing more than 1,360,000 students, and 34 networks representing more than 7,800 institutions have signed the letter.

Examples of best practices for sustainability on college campuses include: Kenya’s Strathmore University, which runs on clean energy and has set up a 600 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) grid tie system; Tongji University in China, which has invested in a sustainability education curriculum and is encouraging other education institutions to do the same; the University of California in the US, which has committed to a system-wide goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025; and American University and Colgate University in the US, both of which have already achieved carbon neutrality.

The aim of the initiative is to get as many networks and institutions as possible on board to showcase commitments made towards achieving SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 13 (climate action). The hope is that over 10,000 institutions will sign the letter before the end of the 2019.

EAUC represents over 200 institutions with a combined total of two million students, nearly 400,000 staff and a spending budget of over GBP 25 billion. Second Nature aims to accelerate climate action in and through higher education by mobilizing higher education institutions to scale campus climate initiatives and create innovative climate solutions. [Letter Declaring Climate Emergency and Signatories] [UNEP Press Release] [The SDG Accord]