Post COP26 - EAUC's Reflections

The COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow have finished (13th November 2021) and ...
The COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow have finished (13th November 2021) and the gavel has come down on the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed by all 197 countries. If the 2015 Paris Agreement provided the framework for countries to tackle climate change then Glasgow, six years on, was the first major test of this high-water mark of global diplomacy.

So, what have we learnt from two weeks of leaders’ statements, massive protests and side deals on coal, stopping fossil fuel finance and deforestation, plus the final signed Glasgow Climate Pact and what does this mean for the further and higher education sector, and implicitly, the EAUC?

EAUC received Observer Status at COP26 and we were able to send a small delegation of our staff, Board, Fellows and two of our Student Climate Commissioners. Whilst this was the first time that the majority of us had attended a COP, we were disappointed that many of the key sessions, such as the World Leader’s Summit and the negotiation rooms, were only available to one representative from each constituency, due to social distancing requirements and limited capacity, so we were not able to experience the full extent of a COP event as an Observer.

With delegations attending COP26 having an average age of 55, the youth voice was not as strong as it could be within COP26 – although we heard the youth perspective loud and clear outside of the COP26 zones! With our two Student Climate Commissioners, Manveer and Katie, attending Week 1, we ensured their voice was heard through a variety of events with University of Tokyo, universities in Morocco, as well as a Q&A session and the official launch of the Draft Sustainability Strategy by the UK Secretary of State for Education. 

For the first time, the conclusions of a COP event included language on reducing reliance on fossil fuels, calling for acceleration of efforts towards the phase down of coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies.

We believe COP26 demonstrated a ramping up of action (although sadly, not the level of commitments required to keep warming below 1.5°C, below pre-industrial levels), but in an attempt to assess its clear outcomes for the sector, we have evaluated the results in line with EAUC’s COP26 asks.
  • Net-zeroTo expect and enable all colleges and universities to become net-zero by 2030 (for scopes 1 & 2) and for scope 3 by the relevant national timescale and 2050 at the latest. Plus, that Governments facilitate colleges and universities to publicly report emissions using a consistent and comparable methodology.

Some progress in terms of cutting emissions has been recorded, with the Glasgow Climate Pact stating that the use of unabated coal should be phased down, as should subsidies for fossil fuels. Additional hopes include options to develop further carbon capture and storage technologies to trap emissions at the source and store them underground.

The Race to Zero Campaign has been a catalyst for net-zero commitments made by universities and colleges worldwide, with over 1070 institutions pledging to half their emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 at the very latest, and impacting over 10 million students. While there is a growing concern for sustainability amongst institutional leaders, climate action is still limited with the world’s top research universities not having the most ambitious plans to reach net-zero. The power of non-state actors within our society are crucial in ensuring that all types of organisations and institutions can play their part in a just transition.

We particularly welcome the confirmation of the Improved Marrakesh Partnership for Enhancing Ambition, which is the continuation of the Race to Zero for a further 5 years, therefore institutions can still act by making their pledges.

In the words of EAUC’s CEO, Iain Patton – “We need ALL universities and colleges around the world to commit to net-zero targets, and we need to get our own house in order to fully integrate climate education in the curriculum in the UK – it is clearly just not good enough to have a few hours in Geography or Science.”
  • InvestmentTo provide investment at scale to enable the transition of university and college estates to become Net Zero, and support the adaptation actions for them to be resilient to the disruptions which climate change is causing.

During Science and Innovation Day at COP26, a series of new initiatives backed by global coalitions of nations, businesses and scientists were announced. Particularly, the launch of the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) network that will include more than 90 organisations across 30 economies will see governments, research institutions and communities collaborate to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities on the frontline of climate change.

These new investments in action-oriented research and innovation for adaptation and resilience are very encouraging in developing aligned activities to facilitate the achievement of our collective aims. Organisations worldwide (including the further and higher education sector) can join this movement to help create the systemic change that is needed for this to happen. To become a member email:

It was widely recognised that the global world needs a just transition. In this sense, a pledge for green growth, decent work and economic prosperity in the transition to net-zero was published.

We look forward to hearing how the new Sustainability Strategy will provide funding to colleges and universities to achieve the aims. The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme is not sufficient to enable colleges and universities to take the action they want and in a more timely way.
  • LeadershipTo expect every college and university to have a nominated member of the Executive, Governance and staff who are responsible for institutional climate and sustainability performance, and that, working with the recognised student body at all relevant committee structures, are responsible for the creation and implementation of an institution climate action plan, no later than 2022.

One of the clear breakthroughs for the education sector has been the release of the Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy by the Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, of which EAUC has been a strong advocate. Whilst this only covers England at the moment, there is hope that this will become a UK wide strategy working with devolved nations. The Strategy covers all aspects of education from early years to higher education.

This strategy sets out ambitious activity to respond to recommendations for education from the Committee for Climate Change, the Dasgupta Review, Green Jobs Taskforce report and supports the delivery of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and Net Zero Strategy.

From November 2021 to March 2022, a user group of sector representatives and a group of young people, reflecting a diverse range of voices, backgrounds, and experiences, will bring together feedback on this strategy from those they represent and EAUC will have a representative on each of the working groups. Youth representation will also be included in the sector group, including our Student Climate Commissioners. A representative of this user group will sit on DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change Board.

The Climate Commission launched the Climate Action for University Chairs Guide, in partnership with Committee for University Chairs, ahead of COP26 and we will continue to work with the sector to increase leadership in colleges and universities.
  • Education and SkillsTo expect climate and sustainability education and skills to be integrated into all disciplines across colleges and universities curricula alongside climate and sustainability career pathways in place no later than 2023 with urgent training being provided to upskill teachers and academics where required.

A first for COP was the inclusion of Education Ministers, with a Ministers of Education and Environment Summit, chaired by the UK Secretary of State for Education Rt. Hon. Nadhim Zahawi and Prof. Patrizio Bianchi, Italian Minister of Education. At last, it has been recognised how critical education is in our climate actions.

Over 25 countries pledged to increase climate education, integrate Education for Sustainable Development within their curricula and to highlight good practices. Prof. Bianchi persuaded the UK Presidency to ensure that future COPs will feature Education Ministers within their programmes and to gain further pledges from countries. Yet, new data from UNESCO shows that in over 100 countries, only half of the world’s national education curricula make any reference to climate change - we have a long way to go. The co-chairs’ conclusions of education and environment ministers summit at COP26 can be accessed here.

It is encouraging to see that the critical role played by education and learning in the transition towards a climate positive future and the urgency of embedding climate considerations into all levels of education was finally formally recognised.

We particularly welcome the adoption of the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development as well as the Catania Declaration of G20 Ministers of Education that emphasize the importance of education to address the climate crisis and promote sustainability, and the new COP26 work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment.

Looking forward, EAUC will be working closely with the Sustainability Unit of the UK’s Department of Education over the coming months to ensure colleges and universities are at the heart of their strategy and to encourage them to be much more ambitious with their plans. We will keep members updated throughout this process.

COP27 will be hosted by Egypt in November 2022. Many institutions have Observer Status and you can see if your institution is listed and make contact with your appointed focal point to ensure you can engage at the next COP.

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