Open letter

Open letter to Vice-Chancellors, UUK and UKRI – help us take action on climate change now

Dear Vice-Chancellors, UUK and UKRI,
Humanity stands at the brink of a precipice. If we do not urgently address climate breakdown and the ecological crisis, the very future of life on earth is in question. David Attenborough has said, ‘We cannot be radical enough’ in tackling the climate crisis, and the people are listening. Universities are the bastions of wisdom and knowledge that are urgently needed to combat the climate crisis. Now is the time to increase our efforts.

The crisis is at our doorstep
The impacts of climate change are being felt more rapidly than predicted, with Himalayan glaciers melting twice as fast as expected and the Arctic warming to a full 4°C above average. Thawing permafrost soil is releasing unprecedented amounts of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere. 2018 was the world’s 4th hottest year on record. As the UN warns that climate crisis related disasters are happening at a rate of one a week, the risk we face is that impacts may soon run away from us with changes too swift and unpredictable to mitigate.

We need to achieve the impossible: The Great Transition
When in 1961, President John F Kennedy committed the United States to ‘go to the Moon’ before the decade was out, it was the collective efforts of scientists and engineers that saw this seemingly impossible feat accomplished 50 years ago this year. Today, we face an even greater challenge, and the IPCC’s 2018 report makes clear that the 10 year window available to us is non-negotiable. The work starts now to transform our world into a sustainable, safe, fair place for our children to thrive – the Great Transition. We owe our students, and the world, nothing less than full engagement.

We must act independently and swiftly
The Committee on Climate Change recently said ministers were failing to cut emissions fast enough, and failing to adapt to rising temperatures. The Grantham Research Institute just published a report which found that half of all major companies do not factor the climate crisis into decision-making. The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges recently announced that 7000+ universities and colleges globally have declared a climate emergency. More will join and a global network, working together, could make an enormous difference.

Support fellowships, placements and volunteering for mitigation, adaptation and ecological restoration
We ask you to support scientists, academics and students to help address the climate emergency through a series of new programs, fellowships, sabbaticals and voluntary placements to help the critical efforts needed to save all life on our planet. These will be hosted by a large partnership between universities, companies and NGOs working on solutions.

We need to be leaders. We need to transform our universities into action-oriented institutions.

Please help us make this possible.

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We cannot be radical enough in dealing with this issue
David Attenborough, July 2019

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Founding Steering Committee

Prof Mark Maslin
, UCL, Professor of Climatology
Prof Jon Crowcroft, University of Cambridge/Turing Institute, Cambridge Computer Lab
Prof William J. Ripple, Distinguished Professor of Ecology at Oregon State University
Prof Joy Carter, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester
Prof David Humphreys, Professor of Environmental Policy, Open University
Prof Paul Chatterton, Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography, University of Leeds
Dr James McKay,
University of Leeds

Dr Alison Green, Co-founder of Transition Lab.
Mr Richard Dent, Climate and environmental campaign consultant, media producer, Co-founder of Transition Lab.

Contact information

Mr Richard Dent: Co-director, communications strategy

Dr Alison Green: Co-director, Academic outreach, curriculum development