Monday 18-04-2016 - 16:12
Do you think students are worried about the future of this planet? Are we concerned about the rise in global temperatures? Do we care about sustainability, growing produce and working within our communities to make a better world?
Every year, NUS conducts a higher education survey where we ask numerous questions. Some of the key findings were that:
- 80% of students want their institution to be more sustainable.
- 60% of students think sustainability is an important issue and want to learn more about it; even if they are not studying about it.
- 70% of students are concerned about the effects of climate change.
- 70 % of students would take £1,000 less than average a year if they worked for a company with a strong social and environmental record. 50% would take a cut of £3,000.
Evidently, students do care. We care about our world and we care about our futures. For it is the decisions of those who are in power now that will determine our tomorrows.
So, what are we doing to influence these decisions?
NUS Wales are one of the 14 influential Welsh organisations that make up the Stop Climate Chaos Cymru coalition. Together we delivered the ‘Wales Climate Day of Action – Pedal for the Planet’ event on the 28th of November 2015. Over 800 people cycled and marched at Cardiff Bay, including representatives from Cardiff Students Union & Cardiff University to rally for a better future and demand action on climate change.
Then there was the SCCC campaign, ‘Save the planet it’s the only one with chocolate!’ Thirty cafes across Wales, including two at Cardiff University, created a ‘Climate Change Special’ dish made of Fairtrade chocolate. Cocoa is just one of the many items of food at risk from climate change. 70% of cocoa is grown within Ghana and Cote d’ Ivoire where a predicted rise of 2 degrees will make it too hot and dry for cocoa trees to grow, meaning that chocolate could eventually become extinct! And that would be a real tragedy.
What’s Happening in Wales Post Cop21
On the 9th of December 2016, I attended the Climate Change Commission for Wales’s event on the Commitment to action. Carl Sargeant the Minister for Natural Resources and MPs from other parties (apart from UKIP who declined to come) were also present.
I delivered a speech on sustainability, highlighting the importance of our work as a collective;
“The NUS charity department runs sustainability initiatives working with universities, students, students’ unions and local partner organisations to improve sustainability within communities, campuses and curriculums through programs such as Green Impact and Student Switch Off. We are also driving forward education for sustainable development through our pioneering accreditation mark Responsible Futures. Making sure we engage those from all disciplines in Sustainability not just the ‘usual subjects’ of science and geography”
I also outlined that:
“…student activists around the world have are calling on their universities to pull their money out of fossil fuels, in one of the fastest growing social justice campaigns of all time. SUs are hearing this message and passing motions to get their University to divest from fossil fuels i.e. Cardiff University & Swansea have passed motions to divest. The NUS will provide some tools so that we can ENABLE students to make change. Overall to get students on board you need to provide opportunities for them to become change agents and to be active participants in the fight against climate change”
Continuing the Momentum
Students Unions all over the UK have taken on the role of being COP21 regional leaders, helping students to understand more about climate change.
The agreement in Paris was positive but far from good enough. Having something is better than nothing – it’s something to build from – but it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. But students, activists and indigenous communities need to hold governments to account and to keep driving sustainability up the political agenda. We didn’t get what we asked for (commitments for 80% of fossil fuels left in the ground, and 100% of renewable energy by 2050).
We can keep up this momentum by empowering the student movement to call for divestment of fossil fuels invested in our institutions and investment within renewables.
Where does this leave our universities? It is against the ethos and purpose of our education institutions to contribute to the destruction of human beings and of the environment. The NUS has just published two new national reports. One is a status report on investments in the fossil fuel industry, and the other a report on student and staff attitudes towards fossil fuels and renewables. These show that around £100 million of university endowments is definitely invested in extractors of fossil fuels. This is against the desires of students, student unions and staff of whom 85 per cent think their university should invest in renewables and 75 per cent want the opportunity to invest locally.
The Paris talks have given the divestment movement extra momentum. Within Wales Bangor, Cardiff & Swansea have already passed motions through their Student Union for their institutions to divest. Across the UK over a dozen Universities have divested so far, and loads more are on the cusp. Individual students can also be part of the solution. At SOAS, the first London University to divest, a student society have set up a project, along with alumni, to buy solar panels for the unused roofs of the school buildings. They own the energy created and it will be run as a student-led cooperative.
Over the next 18 months, we will be working with our students’ unions to achieve the following:
i) Get every penny of the £100 million known endowment investments in fossil fuels divested and reinvested into energy efficiency / clean-tech / renewables;
ii) Get as many universities and colleges as possible to agree not to put further investments into fossil fuels;
iii) Get as many universities and colleges as possible to commit to 100% renewable energy by a date of their choosing. This could be bought or generated.
Need a call to action/ closing argument, perhaps an adaptation of the below from the Good COP Bad COP debate:
The COP21 agreement, however historic, will never tackle the climate crisis by itself. Especially not with a UK government who less than a week after agreeing to keep to a 2 degree rise in global temperatures slashed subsides to the renewable sector with 65% cuts to solar and have since allowed fracking in national parks. It’s us - students, activists, and indigenous communities – to do that, and we do it by opposing fossil fuel extraction, reforming our education system, and moving our money into the low-carbon economy.
Be hopeful, but not complacent. The challenge is still ahead of us.