University of Sydney commits to climate action, sustainability

26 August 2020
Ambitious targets to help change our world

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.

Hazard reduction at the Narrabri research farm. Credit: Kieran Shephard.

Hazard reduction at the Narrabri research farm. Credit: Kieran Shephard. Top of page: One Tree Island, Great Barrier Reef, where the University runs a research station. Credit: University of Sydney.

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.

Key targets and initiatives from the strategy include:

  • 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025
  • Cutting air travel by 20 per cent by 2025
  • Composting 80 per cent of food waste by 2025
  • Zero single-use plastics offered on campus by 2030
  • Reducing the use of potable (drinking) water 30 per cent by 2030
  • Rollout of sustainable and ethical procurement practices by 2025
  • Achieving a gold rating in the United States-based open-access Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) by 2025
  • Installing University spin-off Gelion solar smart benches on the Camperdown/Darlington campus this year; and 
  • The development of educational opportunities, including in new areas such as a sustainability postgraduate micro-credential.

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.

Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Science & Health)

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