UK higher education facilities move to champion Sustainable Development Goals

UK and Irish higher education facilities have issued a collective response to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with select colleges and universities vowing to embed a new accord to champion the aims of the goals.

The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), which represents more than two million UK and Irish students and 400,000 faculty and staff, has launched ‘The SDG Accord’ – a reflection on the role that educators have in igniting change across people, planet and prosperity.

EAUC’s chief executive Iain Patton said: “This is a huge step in the right direction to better show the world the value of universities, colleges and students. The education institutes responsible for moulding the minds of the next generation of leaders and change agents are accepting a central role in ending some of the most critical global challenges.

“We are collectively saying we will do everything in our power to address issues like gender inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of education, affordable energy, climate change, peace and resilience.”

Announced at the World Congress on Environmental Education (WEEC) in Vancouver over the weekend, the Accord aims to embed the SDGs across higher education to influence both staff and students.

The SDG Accord has already been endorsed by 30 supporting organisations from abroad prior to its launch, including organisations from China, the US and France. Institutions involved will agree to share best practice learnings and report annually on their progress. A sector overview of progress will also be presented annually and reviewed by the UN High Level Political Forum.

“Institutions that sign up to the accord will embed the goals in every department and collaborate across cities, regions, countries and continents,” Patton continued. “This is the beginning of a total global transformation.”

University challenge

It is hoped the SDG Accord will inspire progress on goals related to climate change. Despite progress being made to tackle carbon emissions in the higher education sector, universities are still struggling to reduce emissions by a targeted 43% by 2020.

The Brite Green report found that if higher education institutions continue along historical emission reductions, 71% of universities will fail to meet emissions targets, with only 37 projected to meet or exceed 2020 carbon reduction targets.

Research from a student campaign network suggested that a lack of Government funding to support sustainability in Britain’s higher education establishments was partly to blame for the struggling performances.

Last week, the purchasing consortium for higher education facilities in London became the first in the global education sector to be assessed to the ISO 20400 standard for sustainable procurement.

Matt Mace

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