Australia's first university has joined a growing body of institutions highlighting the importance of sustainability and committed to ambitious new targets as part of its new sustainability strategy and climate statement.
The University of Sydney announced today it was committing to a pathway of net zero emissions, and aimed to send zero waste to landfill and reduce its potable water use by 30 per cent by 2030 as part of a new sustainability strategy, adding its voice to a growing body of institutions calling for urgent action on climate change.
Simultaneously launched are a climate statement– committing the University to climate action (with progress to be reviewed biennially) in alignment with the United Nation’s Paris Agreement and zero net emissions by 2050 – as well as a statement of strategic intent detailing aspirational targets and initiatives.
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said it was important not to forget the other challenges we face globally during this current pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges of our time but so is the growing threat of climate change,” Dr Spence said.
“We know that urgent action is needed and as Australia’s oldest university we believe we have an obligation and ability to align our world-leading sustainability research and teaching with everyday life at the University – to test and showcase what can be done – in so doing, our ideas will help change the world.”
The Sustainability Strategy 2020 is the result of 18 months of discussions between over 1,100 academics, operational staff and students, and has a range of aspirational targets, and initiatives including a ‘living laboratory’ approach, where sustainability research and teaching can be put into practice and tested on the campus community.
Dr Spence said one of the strongest calls for action had been for the University to look at divesting from fossil fuels.
“We have committed to reviewing the University’s approach to investments as part of the strategy and a group of academic and industry experts, professional staff and students are considering potential options and a recommendation will be presented to Senate later this year,” the Vice-Chancellor said.
Sydney Environment Institute director, Professor David Schlosberg says: “The pandemic has, rightly, prompted discussions about what sort of world we want to build back post-pandemic. Our sustainability strategy outlines how we will be taking a whole-of-University approach to sustainability – it is about systemic change, not just individual actions,” Professor Schlosberg said.
“It has been designed to prioritise where we can make the most impact in everyday operations, but is also focused on our research, education, governance, and in the way we care for the Country on which the University is built.”
Initiatives that will be implemented immediately include incorporating sustainability across our core business of research and education. Work on the strategy started in a very different context pre COVID-19, so the University had reprioritised what it would focus on in the short term.
Dr Spence said it was important to get the right framework and support in place to enable change. “We will look at how we can bring our research to life on campus, explore new education opportunities and find alternative ways to fund some of our operational initiatives, such as through grants,” the Vice-Chancellor said.
The University’s climate statement also commits the University to reviewing its progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 13 on urgent climate action, every two years from 2022.
“We recognise that effective action requires all institutions, including governments, corporations, and all civil society actors, including universities, to review and enhance their actions on climate change on a regular basis, consistently with climate science,” the statement reads.