Higher education, engineering, and communications sectors have all declared climate emergencies in the past few days
The climate emergency movement is heading to school. Global higher education networks tying together more than 7000 universities and colleges from across the globe will today declare a climate emergency and publish a three-point plan to confront the escalating environmental crisis.
The announcement sees thousands of universities and colleges from around the world join the current wave of climate emergency declarations, which has also seen representatives of the engineering and advertising industries issue their own declarations in recent days, at the same time as the US Congress takes its first tentative steps towards fomrally adopting a state of emergency.
The higher education plan commits signatories to going carbon neutral by 2030 or by 2050 at the very latest. It also features pledges to mobilise more resources for climate research and skills creation and enhance the delivery of environmental and sustainability education.
The commitments are contained in a letter organised by the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, the US-based higher education climate action organisation, Second Nature, and UN Environment's Youth and Education Alliance. It will be presented to Ministers meeting in New York today at the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.
Signatories are drawn from six continents and include representatives from Strathmore University in Kenya, Tongji University in China, the University of Glasgow, and California State University.
"What we teach shapes the future," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment. "We welcome this commitment from Universities to go climate neutral by 2030 and to scale-up their efforts on campus. 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."
Similar declarations are being issued across multiple industries. The UK Institution of Structural Engineers yesterday published a call to action for firms in the industry to confront the crisis, acknowledging that "building and constructions play a major part, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions".
"Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system in balance with the natural world," the body said in its statement.
It calls on structural engineering firms to sign its declaration, which contains a series of pledges to include climate-related goals as core principles for driving a transformation in industry practices. Proposals include carrying out lifecycle costing and whole life carbon modelling as a standard part of all projects, adopting more regenerative design principles, and prioritising upgrading existing buildings for extended use instead of favouring demolition and new buildings.
Elsewhere, communications consultancy Futerra has published an open letter declaring a climate emergency and calling on creative and advertising firms to disclose "climate conflicts" in their work.
The letter calls on individuals signatories to commit to "simply not work on fossil fuel briefs" and urges agencies to reveal the percentage of turnover categorised by industry, "including income from fossil fuel companies and other high carbon clients".
Launched on Monday, the letter has to date secured the backing of over 50 agencies and 100 individuals.
The latest moves come as US Democrats yesterday tabled a resolution seeking to declare a climate emergency and demand "a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address" the climate threat.
Backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer in the House of representatives and Bernie Sanders in the Senate, the resolution is largely symbolic and will almost certainly fall foul of partisan divisions in Congress.
However, it further underlines how Democrats intend to make climate action a critical component of next year's Presidential race. Blumenauer said he was inspired to seek a formal emergency declaration, after President Trump declared a national emergency over immigration at the US border with Mexico. "It's past time," Blumenauer said. "Congress needs to understand this is an emergency and act like it."
The British Parliament has already backed a similar climate emergency motion, along with a host of local and city governments around the world. A growing number of business groups are similarly exploring whether to adopt the term.
Some critics have argued that the term 'climate emergency' is poorly defined and could quickly morph into 'greenwash' if declarations are not swiftly followed by credible decarbonisation efforts. But in the wake of teenage activist Greta Thunberg's challenge to treat a crisis like a crisis, it seems more and more institutions and industries are prepared to embrace the language of the 'climate emergency'.
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