“We Need to Address What We Believe is Hypocrisy in the University’s Climate Policy”: Open Letter by Leeds Coalition for the Climate

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During the UCU strikes last semester, a group of striking staff at the University of Leeds hosted a teach-out, inviting students to discuss the possibility of setting up a student-staff coalition for the climate.

While we do not yet have a formalized structure, we share a strong commitment to building a mutually supportive network that will hold the University accountable to action in response to the climate crisis.

Drawing on our complementary knowledge and influence as students and workers, we aim to sustain pressure on the University to be proactive in its climate policy beyond the Seven Principles for climate strategy. Since our initial meeting, students and staff have been meeting to find solutions to the problems that brought us together and have set up a Facebook page, ‘Leeds Coalition for the Climate’. 

The University of Leeds’s Seven Principles for action on climate change was released in 2019 and includes the aim of “securing a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030”, as well as orientating research and investments away from the fossil fuel sector.

While we are pleased that the University recognizes the need to take a stance on the climate emergency, we’re concerned that the tentative language of the Seven Principles could act as a get-out clause. We also feel the Seven Principles could aim higher. For example, the University aims to invest only in companies consistent with the Paris Accord; why not be more ambitious than the Paris Accord, considering the scientific consensus that it doesn’t go far enough? 

We are also concerned that while the University has made efforts to consult students on climate issues, these efforts have not been widely publicized, meaning it has not been easily accessible to everyone in the student body. With young people leading climate movements throughout the UK, it is clear that we are passionate about the climate.

Our university is also full of lecturers and researchers with untapped expertise and people who, working in our buildings, cafes, and offices, are in prime positions to inform realistic climate policy implementation. We’d love to see the University actively engaging with the staff and student body to discuss concerns about the climate and feeding these concerns into ambitious climate policy.

We also want to see regular communication from the University updating staff and students on its progress, with specific numbers and achievements. After all, these are our learning and working conditions: we deserve a say in how to make our institution more sustainable.

A proactive approach to the climate would see the University of Leeds in continuous communication with students regarding climate issues. This could be through compulsory environmental lectures for new students at the University educating them on environmental issues and sustainable living, following in the footsteps of Sheffield University, which introduced a compulsory environmental module in 2019.

Various schools within the University should make an effort to integrate sustainability into their courses to enrich learning. Business students, for example, could study how to promote sustainable business practices, and media students could focus on how to communicate environmental issues. By integrating climate and sustainability issues into the curriculum, the University will prepare students for a future in a society that unfortunately, will be radically altered by the effects of climate breakdown.

We need to address what we believe is hypocrisy within the University’s climate policy and aim for consistency going forwards. The University must stop inviting companies such as Shell to present at careers fairs; instead, we should be promoting green careers paths for students.

We must fully divest from fossil fuel companies and stop accepting their money for research. Through following an ambitious and committed climate policy, the University of Leeds has the opportunity to set an example for higher education institutions throughout the UK and worldwide. 

The COVID-19 virus presents us with a moment to pause, consider our current situation and think about how we can do things differently in the future. We don’t want to return to business as usual; we want to return to an institution which is actively engaged with its staff and students and committed to a progressive climate strategy. We do not want to be educated in and work for, an institution that is complicit in the climate crisis.  We aim to finalise a list of climate priorities and present it to the University’s senior leaders before the end of the academic year.

We’d love to hear your feedback and concerns, and actively invite you to get involved through liking our Facebook page, ‘Leeds Coalition for the Climate’, where we’ll keep you up to date on our progress and post about upcoming meetings. Alternatively, send an email to lssclimatecoalition@outlook.com to be added to our mailing list.

We’re currently planning an online workshop on Monday 20th April 5-7pm to work on our climate priorities; all are welcome, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. 

The University of Leeds declined to respond to this open letter.