UEA declares climate and biodiversity emergency

The university has declared a climate and biodiversity emergency following a motion tabled at UEA Assembly on behalf of Extinction Rebellion (XR) UEA, who held a ‘die-in’ at the Square in May.

A spokesperson for XR UEA said: “In these times of great uncertainty, and with the climate and ecological crisis already impacting on the lives of millions around the world, now is the time to make actions follow from words.”

UEA has also indicated it supports the UK committee on Climate Change’s aim of carbon neutrality by 2050, and net zero in terms of energy usage by 2020. Yet although XR UEA believe the university’s declaration is “a very necessary step”, they want to “ensure that [UEA] commits to a more ambitious carbon reduction target than 2050”.

One way UEA hopes to fulfil its carbon neutrality and energy usage targets is with its £300m UEA Vision 2030 project, which includes revamping some university buildings. The university described their plan for a new £65m teaching building and refurbishment of the Lasdun teaching wallas “just one factor precluding reaching [energy usage] net zero by 2020”. The plan includes removing 300 parking spaces from the main car park on campus, a move that has angered some students.

David Richardson, UEA’s Vice Chancellor, said: “Over the decades, researchers from UEA have arguably done more to further our knowledge of humankind’s impact on Earth’s climate and eco-systems than from any other institution.

“As a University we have reduced our carbon emissions by 5% since 1990 – despite the campus doubling in size. We also fully recognise that we need to move faster to deal with what is a climate and biodiversity emergency and that we all have a part to play in addressing this crisis.”

UEA cited the work of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Climatic Research Unit and UEA researchers as having “pioneered understanding of Earth’s changing climate”.

In a bid to fulfil the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) UEA has also signed the SDG Accord. They have done this alongside others in the education industry including the Universities of Leeds, Plymouth, and Edinburgh.

In a statement UEA said: “As educators we have a responsibility to play a central and transformational role in attaining the [SDGs].”

Currently the university runs a sustainability board chaired by Prof Dylan Edwards, the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine and Health. The board meets four times a year to review how well the university is meeting its sustainability targets on campus. Participants of the board include staff from teaching and estates as well as members of uea(su).

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Chris Matthews

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September 2021
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