Climate letter

On 8 October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report.

The scale and severity of human-caused climate change is beyond dispute. The IPCC report shows convincingly why we have to do everything we can to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Achieving this goal will require radical political, technological and social change on a global scale. Only an immediate global transition to a greener society without emissions can mitigate the catastrophic consequences that are expected.

Although many researchers at Dutch universities are active in the debate on climate change, our institutions themselves often have no ambitious climate agenda, and a common approach among universities is lacking. With this letter, we call upon university management to develop and implement policies to drastically reduce the universities’ carbon emissions. We also call on our faculties and colleagues to make the fight against climate change visible in our own practice and to integrate it into education. In this, we follow the example of Danish colleagues, whose letter was signed by 600 scientists.

The IPCC report makes it clear that measures are needed at all levels: globally, nationally, privately, publicly and individually. Universities and research institutes must also take responsibility. There are three main reasons why universities should take the lead with an ambitious climate agenda.

First, researchers make a particularly high contribution to carbon emissions, especially by using air transport to travel to conferences, to conduct research, or to participate in consultations or commissions.
International contacts are indispensable for academic work, but, with new means of communication, there is much to be gained by reducing air traffic to lessen the carbon footprint of universities. This requires action from all ranks: well-considered choices of researchers, investments in new communication technologies, mapping out emissions and setting ambitious targets for reduction.

Second, scientific authority is a key topic in the fight against climate change. Researchers cannot expect to be taken seriously in the debate on climate change if they themselves do not implement the measures they propose. We have to put our own house in order first if we want others to listen.

Third, universities are ideally suited to lead the fight against climate change by developing and testing innovative, interdisciplinary and evidence-based measures for reducing carbon emissions.

Like any large institute, universities must contribute their share and exercise social responsibility towards their employees and the environment. As places of learning, universities have enormous potential to bring about positive social change in the fight against climate change through their contact with thousands of young students.

We therefore demand that the management and faculties of our universities tighten up their policies and measures to reduce the direct and indirect emissions of their universities by implementing technical, administrative, behavioural and pedagogical initiatives. At many universities, a start has already been made on measures like this.

Now is the time for an ambitious and longsighted climate agenda, founded on clear and measurable goals for reducing carbon emissions, and a package of measures, including the following:

1. Reducing energy consumption and investing in sustainable energy.
2. Drastically reducing flights, with insightful targets, including through exercising critical consideration before travelling, using alternative modes of transport, and investing in climate-friendly alternatives and behavioural change to enable remote participation at academic consultations, conferences and exchanges.
3. Scrutinizing the universities’ education on offer for energy efficiency, including through expanding distance education.
4. Supporting environmentally-friendly solutions at the universities’ cafetarias and for conference dinners.
5. Further promoting the use of public transport and bicycles for commuter traffic.
6. Where it is still necessary, withdrawing all investments of university funds from the fossil fuel industry.

We await the response and action of the management of our universities, as well as their faculties and individual academics.

  • Heleen de Coninck, Associate Professor Innovation studies, Radboud Universiteit
  • Ron Cörvers, Associate Professor Governance for Sustainable Development , Maastricht University
  • Jacqueline Cramer, Professor Sustainable innovation, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Han Dolman, Professor Earth Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Kevin Groen, PhD Candidate, Universiteit Leiden
  • Joanna Gusc, Assistant Professor Management Accounting, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • Thea Hilhorst, Professor Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
  • Arjen Hoekstra, Professor Water Management, Universiteit Twente
  • Martin Junginger, Professor Bio-based Economy, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Gert Jan Kramer, Professor Sustainable Energy Supply Systems, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Rik Leemans, Professor Environmental Systems Analysis, Wageningen University & Research
  • Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, Professor Ecological Energetics and Health, Maastricht University
  • Heleen Mees, Assistant Professor Geosciences, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Peter Roessingh, Assistant Professor, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Jan Rotmans, Professor Transitions and Transitions Management, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
  • Maarten Schrama, Assistant Professor Environmental Biology, Universiteit Leiden
  • Henk Siepel, Professor Animal Ecology & Ecophysiology, Radboud Universiteit
  • Jan Verhagen, Senior Scientist, Wageningen University & Research
  • Bartel van de Walle, Professor Policy Analysis, Technische Universiteit Delft
  • Arjen Wals, Professor Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability, Wageningen University & Research
  • Ernst Worrell, Professor Energy, Resources & Technogical Change, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Rosalie van Zelm, Assistant Professor Environmental Science, Radboud Universiteit

All universities support the Climate Letter!

All Dutch universities have expressed their support for the Climate Letter, see the press release. Because of that, we are no longer seeking additional signatories.