Plymouth takes the lead as universities commit to climate action

The University of Plymouth is spearheading a drive by UK universities to take the lead in addressing the climate emergency.

Professor Judith Petts CBE, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, has led the development of a new set of climate commitments endorsed by 140 universities and released ahead of the COP26 conference.

Published today by Universities UK, the commitments support government aims to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.

They include a pledge to champion the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Accord, while a number of universities are introducing COP26 scholarships to ensure the brightest and best talent can develop into the climate leaders of tomorrow.

Vice-Chancellors are calling on the government to acknowledge this in the forthcoming Spending Review by match-funding these awards and ensuring the overall role of universities in climate action is not constrained by budget cuts.

The sector-wide commitments were developed by the Universities UK Climate Task and Finish Group chaired by Professor Petts. She said: 

“There is no simple solution to the climate crisis, with every sector of the economy facing a different set of challenges. Universities are some of the most effective weapons in the UK’s climate and environmental armoury. Our research and expertise is behind the deep understanding of climate change as well as the technological advances driving decarbonisation and building resilience. We are also equipping graduates with the skills and determination we need to respond to the climate crisis, generating the leaders of tomorrow to deliver public and environmental good.”

Read more thoughts from Professor Judith Petts CBE: Time for action to address the climate emergency

Listen to Professor Petts talking about the commitments on NLive Radio's Shout to the Top podcast

Professor Judith Petts CBE

Professor Judith Petts CBE

For over a century, UK universities have led pioneering research into the causes and effects of climate change, and shared their expertise with government, businesses and local communities.

As detailed in the new Universities UK report, they have also made great strides in making campuses sustainable and are investing in the future by equipping students with the knowledge, skills and climate literacy the world needs to find solutions to the climate crisis.

In April this year, the University of Plymouth was named as one of the top 25 institutions globally for its performance against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

It has consistently won national and international awards for its work to maintain a sustainable campus, and to pioneer innovative research and teaching aimed at reducing the impact of human activity on our planet.

Professor Petts added:

“The commitments universities are making are far more than simply touting our eco-credentials. But we need government to support sustainable funding for the sector rather than further cuts, and specifically we hope that they will recognise the opportunities of the COP26 scholarships. With stable funding UK universities will continue to pioneer approaches and provide the world with the science, skills, and talent needed to safeguard the future of the planet.”

Universities commit to climate action

As part of the new Universities UK climate commitments, Vice-Chancellors have agreed to:

  • Set targets for scope 1 and 2 emission reductions which support the government’s plan for reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 and achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest;
  • Set a target for scope 3 emission reductions and other environmental targets beyond emissions as soon as possible;
  • Clearly define how progress against these targets will be reported in a transparent, consistent, and understandable way, and work with official statistics providers to improve data collection;

  • Ensure targets are visible on websites alongside information on how the university is addressing the climate emergency through teaching, research, leadership, local contributions and campus responsibilities;
  • Sign the UN SDG Accord or embed elements of SDG accord reporting into their existing reporting;
  • Use the Climate Commission’s Climate Action toolkit to assess how further actions through the university’s policies and reporting could advance the UN SDGs and respond to the climate emergency.

Read more about the climate commitments in this Universities UK report

Read more information linked to this article


Top 10 sustainable university

We are ranked 9th in the world out of all the institutions featured in the tables for our efforts in support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 17: partnerships for the goals.

The University has established its position as an international pioneer in sustainability practices, research, education and engagement.

Supporting COP26 – United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021

The COP26 summit, held in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 12 November 2021, brought parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on climate change.

The University of Plymouth is proud to be a part of the COP26 Universities Network whose mission it is to ensure that the UK academic sector plays its role in delivering a successful COP26, in order to deliver a zero-carbon, resilient world.

We're a leading, award-winning university for sustainability 

We have a strong strategy for sustainability, incorporating social economic and environmental principles that have been in place for nearly two decades. 

We aim to have a sustainable campus and enable learning to research solutions to the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. 

We also want to motivate the next generation of students to go out and tackle the sustainability challenges they'll find in their workplace.

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