By Cheruto Valentine

Kenya’s Strathmore University is one of the higher learning institutions that have declared a Climate Emergency. This move has seen more than 7,000 higher and further education institutions from 6 continents make this declaration by signing the climate emergency letter.

This marks the first time further and higher education establishments have come together to make a collective commitment to address the climate emergency. These institutions have agreed to undertake a three-point plan to address the crisis through their work with students.

The agreed upon three point plan includes, first, committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest. Second, the institutions are to mobilize more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation. Finally, they are to increase the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curricula, campus and community outreach programs.

Other than Strathmore University, others that signed this letter include Tongji University (China), KEDGE Business School (France), University of Glasgow (UK), California State University (USA), Zayed University (UAE) and Mbarara University of Science and Technology (Uganda).

“What we teach shapes the future. We welcome this commitment from universities to go climate neutral by 2030 and to scale-up their efforts on campus,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UN Environment. “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.”

The letter is organized by The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC); a US-based higher education climate action organization. So far, it has received the support of organizations such as Second Nature, UN Environment’s Youth and Education Alliance, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) and Global Alliance.

Speaking in support of the action, Charlotte Bonner, a Director for Students Organizing for Sustainability said: “Young people around the world feel that schools, colleges and universities have been too slow to react to the crisis that is now bearing down on us. We welcome the news that they are declaring a climate emergency, we have no time to lose. We will be calling on those who haven’t yet supported this initiative, to come on board. Of course, the most important element is the action that follows.”

Despite the slow paced reaction from most higher learning institutions to the climate crisis, some have put practices in place that are geared towards sustainability. Examples of these include Kenya’s Strathmore University, which runs on clean energy and has set up its own 600 kilowatt photovoltaic grid tie system. Also, Tongji University in China has significantly invested in delivering a sustainability education curriculum and is encouraging other education institutions to do the same.

In the United States, the University of California has committed to the system-wide goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, while others, such as the American University and Colgate University, have already achieved carbon neutrality.

The expectation is that over 10,000 institutions of higher and further education will come on board before the end of the 2019, with governments invited to support their leadership with incentives to take action.

The aim of the climate emergency letter is to get as many networks and institutions as possible on board in order to showcase the commitments towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which is about education and SDG 13 (climate change). Contact: rukikaire@un.org

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