London’s universities can lead local challenges to climate change, says new report

London’s universities can lead local challenges to climate change, says new report

In Greenwich and Roehampton it’s “hedgehog-friendly campuses”; in Bloomsbury, district heating reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent; at the London School of Economics it’s socially responsible investment; at Queen Mary’s, research into solar energy.

Just a few examples of London universities’ contributions to tackling climate change, highlighted in a report launched yesterday by the London Higher grouping representing academia across the capital.

With more than 40 institutions, catering for 425,000 students, supporting 223,000 jobs and constituting a quarter of UK universities, London’s higher education sector is both big business in the capital and well-placed to address climate change globally and nationally, but also locally, says the report, which is entitled Clearing The Big Smoke.

Alongside the “unwritten expectation” that higher education in a major world city would be contributing to global efforts on climate change, the sector’s increased commitment to sustainability is making a difference closer to home, report author London Higher chief executive Diana Beech and University of East London vice-chancellor Professor Amanda Broderick said as the report was launched.

“London’s universities are local universities too, and the millions of residents living close to the capital’s campuses are often first in line to realise the benefits of the myriad sustainability efforts being undertaken as part of universities’ environmental missions,” they write.

Environmental initiatives range from biodiversity action – with university sites often providing important public spaces – to zero carbon energy strategies, “green” procurement and support for local businesses going green or developing products for sustainability.

The sector’s knowledge and research expertise is also focusing on sustainability and resilience to climate change, the report says, including supporting programmes launched last year by London Councils, the umbrella grouping for the capital’s local authorities, on energy, low carbon transport and reducing consumption.

The report calls for continued research funding from government, and urges Sadiq Khan to establish a “Green Expert Panel” from London’s academia to support City Hall’s Green New Deal programmes and ensure sustainability projects in the capital are “best supported by advice and research emanating from London’s world-leading universities”.

It comes as the wider role London’s universities play in the city – and the potential to do more – is being increasingly highlighted.

Last month saw the launch of a Civic University Agreement between Goldsmiths College and 11 other “anchor institutions” in Lewisham, including the council, local NHS, cultural organisations and others with the aim of improving sustainability and also boost the local economy, jobs, culture and health.

Goldsmiths generated £91 million in economic impact in Lewisham in 2020, supporting 2,500 jobs in the borough, and local institutions need to work together for improvements in what is one of England’s poorest areas, as government attention shifts away from London, said college head Professor Frances Corner.

“The challenges facing us and our surrounding community are real and they are stark and they require positive action to address them,” she wrote. “We need to put up a fight for Lewisham and its people – and the best way of doing this is by joining forces with our local partners.”

Mayor Khan has also championed the role of “anchor institutions”, including London’s academia, in helping the city’s post-pandemic recovery, with higher education joining other major employers, between them employing more than 490,000 people and spending some £73 billion a year in London, to sign an Anchor Institutions’ Charter.

Launched in March this year, with progress reported through City Hall’s London Recovery Board, the Charter commits its signatories to using their combined procurement and recruitment power to support Londoners most affected by the pandemic’s impact on the city’s economy, particularly younger workers, and it has recently expanded its remit to include action on climate change.

The newly-formed London Research and Policy Partnership, spearheaded by Ben Rogers, previously director of the Centre for London think tank and now a London University professor and a fellow of LSE Cities, also aims to promote closer joint working between London government and the capital’s academic research community.

The partnership, jointly led by London University and City Hall, could put the capital in the lead in harnessing academic research capacity to address urban challenges and improve engagement between the university and government sectors, bringing benefits for both sides, according to Rogers.

Image from Clearing The Big Smoke cover.

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