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Dozens of universities are declaring a climate emergency

Along with educational networks representing more than 7,000 other schools, a long list of higher learning institutions are publicly declaring that we are in an environmental crisis.

Dozens of universities are declaring a climate emergency
[Photo: IconicBestiary/iStock]

The U.K. Parliament declared a climate emergency at the beginning of May. Two weeks later, so did the cities of Dublin and Geneva. Sydney followed in June; hundreds of other cities have made the same declaration. At the beginning of July, Los Angeles set up a Climate Emergency Mobilization Office. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want the federal government to declare a climate emergency. Now, universities are doing the same.

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Dozens of universities announced today that they are declaring a climate emergency, along with educational networks representing more than 7,000 other schools. The plan comes with a commitment to go carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the latest, mobilize more resources for climate research, and increase opportunities for environmental education.

“We’ve been working with schools for the past decade that have really aggressive carbon neutrality targets,” says Timothy Carter, president of Second Nature, one of the networks that works to accelerate climate action in colleges. “But we’ve really seen that momentum pick up recently with the urgency to act.”

Last year, American University in Washington, D.C., became the first research university (and the first college of any kind in the U.S.) to reach a goal of becoming carbon neutral. In 2019, Colgate University in upstate New York became carbon neutral. Others are quickly approaching the same target; the University of California plans to reach that goal by 2025. Schools like the UC system can often help test new technology that can be later used elsewhere. “A lot of the approaches they’re piloting there and testing on campus, and then trying to make that something that can translate to other sectors in California and in the country,” Carter says.

The commitments come not just from the U.S., but from universities around the world. The new declaration includes, for example, Strathmore University in Kenya, which has its own solar farm and runs on clean power, and Tongii University in China, which has focused on expanding sustainability education. By the end of the year, the organizers expect 10,000 institutions to join the declaration.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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