As of 18 April 2019 Newcastle University joined a number of UK institutions and organisations in declaring a climate emergency. Since then the University has been praised for its commitment to reducing their impact as an institution on the environment, placing top in the UK and 7th globally for ‘climate action’ in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. The University is also ranked 23rd in the world by THE for their commitment to sustainable development. What has Newcastle University done to achieve this recognition, and what still must be done by the University to help tackle the climate emergency?
Following a meeting of the Environment and Sustainability Committee on 10 April, Newcastle University released a climate statement outlining its commitment to reducing its impact as an institution on the environment. The statement declared that the University would commit to ‘substantial progress in the de-carbonisation of our activities’, with the aim of ‘achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2040’.
In 2018, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Julie Sanders and Head of Sustainability Matt Dunlop also signed the Government’s Emissions Reduction Pledge on behalf of Newcastle University, which became one of the first institutions to do so.
Newcastle’s top sustainability rankings also came close after the announcement in January 2019 that they would lead two Global Research Hubs. These, it was declared, would work with various goverments and organisations across 85 countries to develop sustainable solutions to future water security and safeguard river deltas and their communities.
When the University issued their climate emergency statement, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Julie Sanders said: ‘We will play our part in Newcastle City Council’s Climate Change Convention and work together with staff, students and partners to push further and faster on environmental sustainability. This will take every ounce of our imagination and effort to do thoughtfully and well but it is one of the most significant ways to put our aspirational values of excellence, creativity and impact into action’.
As part of this push for change, Sanders mentioned the University’s progress towards divestment from fossil fuels following its commitment made in 2016. She said: ‘In 2016 we also agreed as an institution to divest from fossil fuels within five years and we are on track to achieve this. As a proportion of total holdings, Newcastle University’s investment in the oil and gas sector has reduced from 8.8% in September 2017 to 4.4% in October 2018’.
The University’s commitment to divestment has been a hot topic among students this academic year, with societies such as Fossil Free Newcastle University urging the University to commit to full divestment. In December 2018 a motion passed through Student Council with a 89% majority demanding ‘greater transparency and more regular information on Newcastle University’s investments, including fossil fuel divestment’.
May 2019 saw NUSU President Raff Marioni’s announcement that the Students’ Union had achieved their 3-year aim of complete divestment from fossil fuels, which they made at the same time as the University in 2016. He told the Courier that ‘the most important next step’ for the Union would be ‘to continue to lobby the University to contribute positively to the environment.’
In the most recent press release from the University on the progress of their divestment commitment, released in November 2018, Richard Dale, Executive Director of Finance for Newcastle University, said: ‘We stand by our commitment to furthering environmental sustainability’, and emphasised the University’s progress towards its divestment aims in the 2017/2018 academic year.
While Newcastle University has made the vital step of declaring a climate emergency and has been recognised for its achievements in reducing the University’s environmental impact, students are still urging for further action, particularly with regards to fossil fuel divestment.