The University of Sussex has joined organisations around the world in declaring a climate emergency with Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell stating that “unless the higher education sector works together to address the problem at every possible juncture, we will be failing the young people who turn to us – and who need us to protect their futures.”

In making the move, the University pledged to bring together academic experts from across the globe to devise the technological and policy solutions needed to tackle climate change.

In the past few years, the University has invested £3 million establishing a global research programme to help speed up the delivery of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Led by former UN Chief Scientist Professor Joseph Alcamo, experts in the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) believe the SDGs can be achieved much faster by tackling related goals together – for example, food with biodiversity and energy with water.

The SSRP builds on two threads of excellence at the University of Sussex and Institute of Development Studies: a long, distinguished record in sustainability science and worldwide leadership in development studies. Sussex has been number one in the world for development studies for four of the last five years.

Adam Tickell, who spoke on the issue at the UN High-level Political Forum on sustainable development in New York earlier this month, said:

“At its core, climate change is a problem to be solved – admittedly a huge one – and universities are great at problem solving and educating the next generation of problem solvers.

“I’ve previously been unsure about declaring a climate emergency as I believe more in actions than words. But in visiting the UN and witnessing the achievements of youth movements in recent months, I’ve seen that words have tremendous power to drive actions on a global scale.

“It is absolutely clear to me that the urgent action needed to address the daunting challenge of global climate change cannot be achieved without the expertise and collective voice of the world’s universities.

“Sussex is in an extremely strong position to lead this charge.”

The University is also drawing on its academic expertise to become as green as possible in its own activities. Among other developments, in recent years Sussex has:

  • Installed 3,000 solar panels across its campus, the largest solar energy project at any UK university
  • Doubled the use of reusable mugs for hot drinks sold on campus
  • Increased recycling and food waste facilities for students, staff and visitors
  • Implemented sustainable transport initiatives, such as installing charging points for electric vehicles
  • Established a socially responsible investment strategy, investing its funds in businesses that contribute to a social good
  • Expanded online distance learning programmes
  • Begun work to embed sustainability across its curriculum

Whilst important, these actions remain relatively minor. Over the coming months and years, the University must demonstrate leadership and the Sustainability Committee will be leading a series of fundamental changes to our current practices. The Committee will be working closely with the Students’ Union and are planning a major event next academic year to demonstrate the University’s commitment to change.

Adam Tickell added: “We know that, in declaring a climate emergency, our students and supporters will hold us to account for our own actions. We welcome that scrutiny and will continue to take steps wherever we can to stand by our words.”