Today we celebrate World Environment Day which provides an important opportunity to reflect on progress to date to address the climate emergency and accelerate our transition to a net-zero economy and society.
A poignant moment given this year marks 50 years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, widely considered to be the first international meeting on the environment.
The impacts associated with the destruction and pollution of our environment and oceans will not only be catastrophic for the biodiversity of our planet but will further exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. Moreover, it is well recognised that climate change will be felt disproportionately across populations, affecting more severely those people who are the most disadvantaged.
The UK’s hosting of COP26 brought the natural environment and our impact on it to the forefront of public consciousness. We know that we must seize this moment to bring about meaningful and substantial change across all sectors and in all areas of our daily lives.
In the Humber region and at the University of Hull, advancing positive impact on climate change and social justice lies at the heart of our vision for a fairer, brighter and carbon neutral future. It is also embedded in the University’s Strategy 2030. As a region, the Humber has the highest Co2 emissions of any region in the UK, would be one of the first areas to experience the impact of rising sea levels, and is riven with significant inequalities.
Yet, the Humber region is leading the way in the transition to a zero-carbon economy. The University of Hull, regional industry, the public sector, SMEs and local communities are united in viewing these challenges as our greatest opportunity. Collectively, we are working to transform the Humber into the ‘Silicon Valley’ of renewable energy, providing a blueprint for how to successfully harness the power of place to develop the technologies and solutions needed for a sustainable future. To accelerate our own vision to become a carbon neutral campus in 2027, the University of Hull recently secured £86m of green financing to invest in sustainable facilities and academic infrastructure.
The film, ‘Eyes on the Humber’, screened at COP26, reveals the opportunity for the region to serve as a living lab for decarbonisation and the development of clean energy technologies, to tackle the impacts of climate change, and to address simultaneously the inequalities in education, health, employment and quality of life. Our belief is that if the creation of a zero-carbon economy can be achieved here, it can be achieved anywhere.
World Environment Day calls on us to consider the impacts of climate change beyond our immediate communities, understanding the national, regional and global impact of environmental degradation, extreme weather and rising sea levels on people around the world. Universities are delivering world-leading and internationally excellent research (the UK REF exercise has just demonstrated this) and internationally respected and sought-after education (international students continue to find the UK an attractive proposition). Further, many are committed to meaningful community engagement and service. Continuing to lead and play a strong role in this agenda is essential – for me, universities are about transforming individual lives and positively impacting society. Perhaps, never more than now, has this been a vital quest.