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Bristol becomes the first University to declare a climate emergency

Following action from students and staff, the University of Bristol has become the first UK University to declare a climate emergency.

By Imogen Horton, News Editor

Following action from students and staff, the University of Bristol has become the first UK University to declare a climate emergency.

The decision, announced today, follows a letter to the Vice-Chancellor signed by around 100 academics and a petition signed by 500 students.

The declaration reaffirms their pledges to divest completely from all investments in fossil fuel companies by 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2030. To date, the University have reduced carbon emissions by 27 per cent and say they are well on the way to hitting their target.

Biology student Giles Atkinson led the student petition. He said: 'Universities have an opportunity in being leaders to the response to climate change.

'This declaration will help communicate the urgency of the situation and inspire further action. We hope that other universities follow suit.'

In a statement, the University also spoke about the 'deep concerns' of students, ackowledging 'a strong link between climate change anxiety and mental health issues becoming increasingly evident'.

Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, said: 'The University of Bristol plays a key role in fighting climate change, it does this through its research, its teaching and how it operates.

'Calling a climate emergency highlights the urgency of the task we are engaged in and I hope others join us in increasing their action on this, the biggest challenge we face.'

The University of Bristol has also recently launched a new Masters course 'Research in Global Environmental Challenges' which they say will teach the next generation of researchers to take an interdisciplinary approach to the most complex environmental challenges.

A Students’ Union meeting in February passed a motion to put pressure on the University to declare a climate emergency, but due to lack of engagement from students across the University at the AMM, no official stance was taken by the SU.

Vanessa Wilson, Bristol SU Student Living Officer, told Epigram that the SU 'are pleased to learn that the University have heard our students and are taking a lead on this issue'.

She continued: 'The future of the planet is among the biggest challenges our generation faces. While this is just the start and much work has to be done, now Bristol students have a huge opportunity to play a part in tackling this issue head-on.'

Dr Laura Dickinson, from the Department of Civil Engineering, was one of the academics who added her signature to the letter and spoke at Monday’s Senate meeting. She said: 'Declaring a climate and ecological emergency is the right thing to do.

'It sends the clear message that students and staff know that we must take radical action now: first by giving appropriate weight to the severity of the crisis in our teaching, research and the way the university is run; and second by leading other universities in putting pressure on the UK Government to act decisively and urgently.'

The declaration also coincides with the involvement of over 20 Bristol students in the Extinction Rebellion protests this week.

Talking to Epigram, Eleanor Strangways, 4th year student and member of UOB Extinction Eebellion, said: 'We believe that with Bristol University leading the way on the climate crisis, other universities will do the same. This should hopefully escalate the pressure on the UK government to respond to the three demands of Extinction Rebellion.'

The University's declaration supports Bristol City Council’s recent climate emergency declaration and its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Featured Image: Epigram / Alexander Hickmott

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