The Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education Students and Leaders was launched

The Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education Students and Leaders was launched yesterday (Wednesday, 13th November 2019) – marking the start of a year long drive to drastically increase the contribution of universities and colleges to the fight against climate change.

The first half of the event saw Students, Vice Chancellors and Principals from across the UK and Ireland divide into sub groups to review the deliverables and outcomes for the Commission and the year long action plan. There was a recognition that institutions needed to better understand the urgency and scale of change required, but that their response must not be knee-jerk, it must be quickly and sustainably planned.
This means they must not implement change that is unsustainable or they lack the infrastructure to support – with the example of compostable packaging being given, which requires an anaerobic digester to compost and is therefore posited as a solution, but actually ends up in landfill if the infrastructure is not available. There was also a general consensus that institutions needed to ensure they listen to their students on this agenda, and empower them to lead this change within their institutions and communities. The input from attendees will now be collated and deliverables and timelines confirmed as soon as possible. 

The second half of the launch welcomed Expert Witnesses from sector bodies and organisations that work on sustainability, as well as Observers such as government and regulatory bodies such as Office for Students.
The Climate Commission will continue to work with these groups as well as EAUC Members to provide the knowledge required to make long term sustainable change. The session saw three keynote speeches, one from The Rt. Hon. The Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change and a speech each from students representing Higher Education and Further Education. Lord Deben emphasised that students must exercise their democratic right to vote, and they should bare each parties policies on the Climate Crisis in mind when casting their ballot. He also said that institutions must play their part and get their house in order – they should be setting an example. Lord Deben said: “We are all very lucky to be living at this hour, at no point has a generation been so lucky because we know what we have to do, we know what is happening, and therefore we can change. We have a remarkable privilege to make a difference. So let’s make that difference, and after COP26 we can say the students of Britain changed the world.”

Representing HE students, Lizzy Houghton, Students’ Union Activities and Development Officer at University of Manchester talked about how institutions need to be held to account. She called on universities and colleges to stop seeing each other as competitors, and work together to create radical and systemic change. She identified three main changes institutions needed to make at pace: Divesting from companies that are involved with fossil fuels, overhauling the curriculum, and empowering students to be at the forefront of this movement within their institution.

Representing FE students, Amy Brazier, Student at Portsmouth College spoke passionately on behalf of FE students. She outlined the facts of the Climate Crisis and said change is not a choice. She said the UK is not doing enough, and institutions must put themselves under the microscope -  look at their supply chains and ensure they are only using ethical resources, teach about the world students will enter and not the world that has gone before, and become carbon neutral as soon as possible. 

A Q&A session was then held and the Commissioners answered questions and welcomed suggestions on topics from improving connectivity between institutions, bridging the gap between students and executives, and getting unions more involved.

Iain Patton, CEO, EAUC, facilitated the event and said, “Today we embark on the EAUCs most ambitious and significant programme yet. Around the table are EAUC members, sector bodies, government agencies and university and college leaders. But it is the presence of large numbers of students in the Climate Commission as equal partners which will ensure the Commission enables the sector to courageously lead and deliver the change the Climate Emergency needs, as well as action and urgency being at the heart of the outcomes.”

You can see if your institution and your students are involved in the Climate Commission here. We will accept leaders and students who wish to take part in the year long Climate Commission to join until Thursday 12th December – please contact to join.

 Our next steps are to gather the feedback from the event and review the deliverables and action plan. This will be made available as soon as possible.

You can read further about the Climate Commission and read Iain Patton’s reflective blog on the growing climate emergency movement,and the role of Higher and Further Education within it.
Delivered by EAUC