Networks representing over 7,000 higher education institutions from across the world on Thursday declared a climate emergency and agreed to undertake steps to address the crisis.
In a joint letter, they talked about a three-point plan that includes going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the latest, mobilising more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation, and increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curricula, campus and community outreach programmes.
The letter -- coordinated by the UN Environment's Youth and Education Alliance, The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, and Second Nature - a US-based higher education climate action organization -- marks the first time education institutions made a collective commitment to address climate emergency.
Signed by universities including Strathmore University (Kenya), Tongji University (China) and KEDGE Business School (France), the call is also backed by major global education networks such as the Global Alliance and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, which have made commitments to meeting the suggested carbon neutrality targets.
"What we teach shapes the future. We welcome this commitment from universities to go climate neutral by 2030 and to scale-up efforts on campus," UN Environment Executive Director Inger Andersen said.
"Young people are increasingly at the forefront of calls for more action on climate and environmental challenges. Initiatives which directly involve the youth in this critical work are a valuable contribution to achieving environmental sustainability."
Examples of best practices for sustainability on campus include Kenya's Strathmore University, which runs on clean energy and has set up its own 600KW photovoltaic grid tie system, as well as Tongji University in China, which has significantly invested in delivering a sustainability education curriculum and is encouraging other education institutions to do the same.
In the US, the University of California has committed to a system-wide goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, while others, such as the American University and Colgate University, have already achieved carbon neutrality.