Global mean temperature is already 1°C higher than pre-industrial levels, and urgent radical action is required if we are to stay within 1.5° of warming. The consequences of exceeding this limit almost certainly will include increasing numbers of heat-related deaths, extreme food and water shortages, and extreme weather events that are both more frequent and more severe. The IPCC estimates that limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million. In addition to the direct effects on people, the projected effects on the natural world if we do not take rapid and far-reaching action will be devastating. For example, around 25% of all known marine species are supported by coral reefs. The IPCC estimates that 1.5°C of warming will lead to the loss of about 80% of coral reefs. At 2°C, almost all coral reefs will be lost. The UK and Welsh Parliaments declared a climate emergency this year. Over 50 UK councils and local authorities have followed suit, together with over 400 local authorities around the world. Two of the GW4 universities – Bristol University and the University of Exeter – have already done so. We strongly urge this university to demonstrate its leadership in the academic community by being the first Welsh university to publicly declare a climate emergency, and joining its partners in GW4 in helping to move forward the sense of national urgency on this matter. By declaring an emergency, the University would recognise the work of its climate experts across Schools, University Research Institutes and Colleges. The ESRC has recently awarded £5million to fund the work of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST), the main hub of which is based at Cardiff University. The declaration of a climate emergency would be in line with the founding principle of this Centre, that systemic and society-wide transformations are urgently required to bring about a sustainable, low-carbon future.
The declaration of a climate emergency would acknowledge the deep concerns of students, many of whom are rightly worried about what the future holds in store for them. The link between climate change anxiety and mental health is becoming increasingly evident; an area that is a major concern for both students and staff, as has already been acknowledged by members of the University Executive Board. A declaration would make clear to students looking to study at Cardiff that the University places the very highest value on their futures.
A declaration would align the University with Cardiff Council who declared a climate emergency this year. The University needs to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this issue with its key civic partners, working to ensure that our combined efforts prevent further damage whilst promoting local, regional and national solutions.
Cardiff University’s direct and effective action can send a clear signal by guiding the Welsh and UK governments towards action that matches the scale of the challenges of climate breakdown. Through external action and internal change, the University can demonstrate how it intends to become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. The University argues that it has a strong commitment to sustainability and has committed to its Estates operations being carbon neutral by 2023. The University has also committed to embed the Sustainable Development Goals into Higher Education. A climate emergency declaration would be consistent with this pledge and would emphasise to the wider community that its ambitions extend further.
We are mindful that a declaration of an emergency does not itself guarantee action at the appropriate scale and speed. In making such a climate emergency declaration, we therefore also urge the University to commit to a formal and transparent process, that embeds climate action within University decision making at the highest level to ensure that intentions are matched by outcomes.
Cardiff University is rightly proud of its role as a global civic leader. In accordance with this role, and without delay, the University should now lead the way through declaring a climate emergency and setting in motion a process by which its response can be embedded across University activities.