University of Leeds statement: Global climate crisis

It is critical we tackle the climate crisis. The wide-ranging effects of climate change pose a grave risk to global society and human well-being.

The University’s Council – our governing body – shares staff and student concerns regarding the effects of climate change and is determined to take a lead and mobilise the University’s combined knowledge, influence, assets and community to help the world transition to a low carbon society and mitigate our impact on the environment.

Achieving a low carbon future will require difficult decisions and pragmatic compromise, but the University is committed to making the transition. To that end, the Council has set seven principles to guide University action.

Climate crisis principles

  1. We shall prepare our next Climate Plan and sustainability strategy with a view to securing a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 (twenty years earlier than the IPCC recommends). Furthermore, although we cannot yet guarantee to achieve it, it is our aim as an institution to have no direct carbon emissions by 2050.
  2. We shall ensure that considerations of sustainability, and specifically our trajectory to a zero carbon future, shape institutional decision-making. In particular, we will ensure that all major decisions are informed by a sustainability value assessment, just as they are now by a risk assessment.
  3. As we make the transition to a low carbon future, we shall increasingly reorient our research and teaching away from the fossil fuel sector. As we do so, we shall continue to work with (and accept money from) fossil fuel companies when the work in question is to reduce carbon emissions or could help to accelerate the transition to a low carbon future.
  4. We shall further extend the Leeds Sustainable Discovery Theme programme to integrate sustainability into our teaching provision at all levels, and give opportunities to students to take part in activities to promote sustainability. We shall also further extend the inclusion of sustainability in our educational engagement and outreach activities.
  5. We will continue to work with Leeds City Council, in particular through the Leeds Climate Commission and by extending our Living Lab Programme, and with other partners, towards the goal of making Leeds a net-zero carbon city by 2030, consistent with the City Council’s decision in March 2019 to declare a ‘climate emergency’, to sign up to science-based carbon reduction targets, and to work to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030. We support the City Council’s call on central government to provide the funding and powers to make this possible.
  6. We shall likewise encourage and support the City Council and other relevant authorities to develop a sustainable transport system for the city region (thereby also helping to reduce the University’s indirect carbon footprint). We are committed to internationalisation, and to securing international excellence; but we shall explore ways of developing sustainable forms of international communication and reducing the impact of our business travel in a way which is consistent with that commitment.
  7. We will continue to invest responsibly. As a minimum, we shall invest only in companies which manage their affairs in a way which is consistent with Paris Climate Accord goals.

The University of Leeds has fully divested from significant fossil fuel extractors.

As a result of its Climate Active Strategy, the University has withdrawn investment from Total, BP and, most recently, Shell (Royal Dutch Shell). Having done so, the University’s exposure to fossil fuel extraction is now minimal, with the limited investment in this sector now focused on supporting companies who are evidently making the transition to alternative energy sources and a low carbon economy. The Climate Active Strategy will continue to guide the University’s determined approach to responsible investment.

Building on firm foundations

These principles build on firm foundations of world-leading climate research, a strong focus on sustainability and our sector-leading education programmes:

Climate research and sustainability:

  • We are home to the Priestley International Centre for Climate, recognised as a leading international authority for policy-relevant, solution-driven climate research;
  • The water@leeds research centre recently celebrated its ten year anniversary. It will continue to tackle many of the key questions about how climate change might effect one of the most vital natural resources.
  • Leeds researchers have contributed to all elements of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, with six lead authors and 11 contributing authors to the Fifth Assessment Reports in 2014;
  • We were ranked first for research power in Earth and Environmental Science in the latest Research Excellence Framework (2014), and are ranked first in the UK for Bioenergy research funding;
  • We have a critical mass of expertise here at Leeds, hosting four national centres: the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the NERC Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products, and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy;
  • Our Global Food and Environment Institute has a focus on reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of the food industry;
  • We are only one of four universities to have an academic partnership with the UK Met Office, which works to improve understanding of extreme weather events and societal use of climate information and services across the globe.

Examples of our strengths in action:

  • Leeds Climate Commission provides authoritative advice to the City and beyond, on how we build a low carbon, climate resilient future, informing policies and shaping the actions of local stakeholders and decision makers;
  • We lead two major Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Capability Building projects, aimed at improving the use of weather and climate services across sub-Saharan Africa (SWIFT), and building agricultural and food system resilience in southern and East Africa (AFRICAP)

Our focus on sustainability:

  • The University and Leeds University Union have together pledged to become single-use plastic-free by 2023. The campaign, Single Out: 2023 PlasticFree, crucially commits the University and Union to phase out single-use plastic across the board, not just in catering and office spaces;
  • Our approach is to embed sustainability across all aspects of the University curriculum. We have recently been recognised by a prestigious International Sustainable Campus Network award;
  • Our Faculty of the Environment educates more undergraduate students than any other UK university in environmental science and sustainability. We are leaders in training postgraduate taught students in both sustainability and climate change;
  • Our Living Lab programme is leading the way in developing new sustainability solutions, by integrating our research, student education and operations.

Further information

The principles were agreed at the University of Leeds Council meeting on Thursday 25 July 2019.