Commissioning a momentous climate-action trinity to better support our members

‚ÄčVice Chancellors & Principals, Students and EAUC Sustainability Leaders
- Commissioning a momentous climate-action trinity to better support our Members

EAUC CEO Iain Patton discusses the growing climate emergency movement, and the role of Higher and Further Education within it.

I have been the CEO at the EAUC for 15 years – when we started out, we were a group of sustainability professionals in universities and colleges that believed sustainability was the key to successful institutions creating successful young people. We recognised that young people were going to face unprecedented problems economically, socially and crucially: environmentally. We believed sustainability was the answer and that universities and colleges were in a unique position to deliver sustainability, across their campuses, curriculum and community. Since then, while we have progressed in our efforts to integrate sustainability into universities and colleges, and ensure staff and students see the value of sustainability, it is fair to say progress has been slow in the face of alarmingly fast rates of climate change.
 That is until now. When a variety of factors, not least the student climate strikes, have awakened the world to the climate crisis we are facing. Finally, we are getting traction with executive staff on this agenda, and we are running with it. We have initiated a Climate Commission for UK universities and Colleges, alongside AoC, UUK and GuildHE.  While there is much that institutions can do (and many are) to work towards emissions neutrality, we still lack a clear and agreed road-map to emissions neutrality. The sector needs this. When we say emissions, we need to be confident that we are all talking about the same thing – the same gases, the same scopes, the same calculation methodologies. The Climate Commission will do this, it is sector-led and action-focussed to achieve the step-change in sector performance we all want to see.
Building on EAUC's members expertise and progress on emissions reduction, the Commission aims to increase university and college executive leaders’ engagement, understanding and buy-in to drive urgent collective Climate Emergency action at the strategic level, and that’s why we have aimed this commission at executive level staff. With EAUC as the Commission Secretariat, our members' voices through the Climate Emergency Think Tank will facilitate more ambitious collective Executive-level action. In turn, we expect our members to benefit from more recognition, freedom and funding in their institutional role. Throughout the development of this year long Commission, sustainability leaders and other experts will bring their skills and experience to identify sticking points and new opportunities to achieve emissions neutrality urgently. There is huge potential here!
These are exciting and hopeful times for climate and wider sustainability action. It’s thanks to movements like Extinction Rebellion and Student Climate Strikes that EAUC has managed to bring sector leadership organisations around the table in the soon to be launched Climate Commission. Therefore, while we are aiming this at executive level staff, and we will be ensuring sustainability professionals get their voices heard clearly, it is also paramount to have the voice of young people. It is this trinity of institutional and sustainability leaders empowered together with students, that can drive climate action to the heart of the sector and hammer out some of the challenges we share in climate-action step change.
It is critical that students have not only a strong voice, but an equal voice in the Climate Commission structure and process. We have invited students and groups of students engaged in this topic to join us. We are breaking down the barriers and making sure they get the chance to take the student message of urgency and hope directly to institutional leaders.
Education institutions have the potential to be uniquely powerful; as educators, as community pillars and hubs for research. As a sector, we must proactively adapt our institutions to reach net zero emissions. But we must also show the leadership and foresight expected of education institutions on this huge issue. You, our members, already know this – but this is a huge opportunity to wake up the rest of your institutions. An area that we know has been challenging for most members.
In education we have a unique responsibility to limit climate damage and enable the next generation of citizens and leaders. The Climate Commission, with EAUC as Secretariat, and our members' crucial contribution is a momentous opportunity to ensure college, university learners and graduates are empowered and equipped to co-create a sustainable future. We hope you feed in to this Climate Commission through the EAUC think tanks – you are an integral pillar to the executive/sustainability professional/student input trinity required to be successful.

Delivered by EAUC