“We want to work with you. The climate emergency is the greatest challenge that humanity will face going forward going forward. QMUL, what do you want your legacy to be? Prioritise putting our university at the forefront of leading change on the climate and ecological emergency and history will remember you. We are running out of time, and we need to act now.”
On Day 4 of the Rebellion, student rebels staged a die-in at Queen Mary University of London to protest against the university’s inaction in declaring a climate emergency. Taking place outside the location of a meeting of the governing body of the university, students from @officialqmul, @xruniversitiesuk and @xr_youth lay in front of the building entrance to confront arriving Council members with a powerful visual reminder of the millions already dying around the world due to the climate crisis, and the extinction faced by every species on our planet if we fail to take radical and urgent action.
Below is the open letter read out and addressed to the QM Council, along with images from the action:
To Colin Bailey and the Council of Queen Mary, University of London:
Colin Bailey, you have refused to publicly comment on the student body’s petition for QMUL to declare a climate emergency in line with the declaration from Tower Hamlets council, now signed by over 300 people. You have informed our Student Union executive officers in private that we must come up with a list of demands to propose to you in order for a climate emergency to be declared. It is unacceptable for students to shoulder the responsibility of coming up with solutions alone when already the youth are having their future’s denied to them by the inaction of adults and the government. The declaration of a climate emergency is an acknowledgement of the truth of the situation that we live in – that what we are currently doing is not enough and recognising the urgency of the need to do more. QMUL has a duty to declare a CEE, not just because of student demands, but because as an educational institution it needs to uphold what the research it produces is telling us – the way our society live, produce and consumes is driving us towards disaster. QMUL has a duty to declare to stay true to your origins of social justice and stand up for the community you were founded to serve – East London and Tower Hamlets, whose children’s health is being irreversibly damaged by air pollution that continues to be emitted by a system that puts profit before people – results of a study that was produced here.
In response to the question ‘Why hasn’t Queen Mary University of London declared a climate emergency and taken the further steps associated with this?’ the university had this to say:
“As a University, we are proud that our students and staff are responsible global citizens engaged deeply with the global issues of our time. We are also proud to be working with the Greater London Authority, Tower Hamlets Council and other partners, together with the UK government, to address the global challenge of climate change. For further information, please see our environmental and sustainability commitments here.”
Committing to “Sustainability” is not enough. The “global challenge of climate change” is not accurate. Neither of these phrases accurately communicate the urgency of the situation to the students and the public. The absence of a declaration is just as bad as denial. In the new 2030 strategy the university commits to ‘opening the doors of opportunity’ to the students of the future. At no point in this strategy does it mention the climate emergency or another key 2030 target – the warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that if global warming is not kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, the consequences for the planet will be catastrophic. We are nowhere near hitting this target currently.
In other words, you may succeed in opening the “doors of opportunity” for students of this university by 2030. But if you do not play our part to taking action against the climate emergency, those doors and the world beyond us will be on fire. The 2030 strategy also claims Queen Mary to be a ‘global university, committed to improving lives locally, nationally and internationally’. How can you claim this when you are refusing to declare a climate emergency? Where is the acknowledgement that millions of people around the world are already dying and billions more affected by fire, flood, drought and the destruction of their natural environments that is had been driven by the economic activities and carbon emissions of the Global North?
The university cannot rest on laurels by focusing on what it is already doing when clearly it is not enough. We need to shift the focus onto how to do more.
As an institution, QMUL is already falling behind. More than 7000 colleges and universities worldwide have declared a climate emergency in a letter organised by the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges – the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education. In the UK these include The University of Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, West of England, Winchester, Canterbury Christ Church, Cambridge, East Anglia, Sussex, Keele, Lincoln, Warwick, Newcastle, Goldsmiths, King’s College London, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh. Why are we not amongst them? UEA and KCL have committed to carbon neutrality by 2025 and Bristol, Keele, Goldsmiths and SOAS by 2030
Professor Julie Sanders, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University, made this statement on Newcastle University’s declaration of a climate emergency : “As a University committed to social justice and to helping students become critical global citizens, it is vitally important that Newcastle University formally recognises the climate emergency. We need to make a contribution to deep and lasting change through our research and our teaching but also through our daily working practices as an organisation. We will play our part in Newcastle City Council’s Climate Change Convention and work together with staff, students and partners to push further and faster on environmental sustainability. This will take every ounce of our imagination and effort to do thoughtfully and well but it is one of the most significant ways to put our aspirational values of excellence, creativity and impact into action.”
This year Goldsmiths, University of London passed the Green New Deal, a plan that proposed by the SU and UCU before being brought the university governing body. Amongst other things it declared that Goldsmiths would commit to: “Reviewing environmental curriculum options which investigate the subject of climate change and the role of individuals and organisations in reducing carbon emissions.” and “Setting up a cross-College working group (with SU representation) to devise and monitor progress on an action plan to deliver our aim to be carbon neutral by 2025, with a promise to be carbon neutral by 2030”
In contrast, QMUL have not released an annual sustainability report publicly since the year 2015/16. They have only committed to a 34% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, with no review on this target released since 2016. QMUL committed to divesting it’s endowment fund completely from fossil fuels in May 2016, however the Ethical Investment Policy has not been updated since December 2017 to indicate whether this has been achieved. The lack of transparency is problematic, as it indicates that the University’s priorities do not lie in this area.
The resources and support are available for QMUL to declare a climate emergency, and follow through with committing to do more. The EAUC have put together a list of demands for universities and a plan for helping institutions achieve them. The support outlined includes running a webinar with Bristol and Newcastle on how they achieved this and support to create a bespoke institutional action plan. There are no excuses for not declaring an emergency and no excuses for relying on your students to do the work for you.
To the council of QM, we implore to act on our behalf to hold Colin accountable, and circumvent him if he won’t listen. We are here today to show you that as students, we are no longer prepared to let our futures and the fate of the planet lie in the hands of others. We demand that the university declares a climate emergency. We demand that the university commits to policy change to make the campus and it’s activities to being carbon neutral by 2025, in line with the declaration of Tower Hamlets Council. We demand that the university implements climate education for all degree subjects and commits to investing in climate education for the communities in Tower Hamlets, breaking down barriers that makes academia and education inaccessible to those who are not privileged to be in higher education. We demand that they implement a staff/students assembly to create an open dialogue for us to work together to create policies that will allow us to achieve these demands.
We want to work with you. The climate emergency is the greatest challenge that humanity will face going forward going forward. QMUL, what do you want your legacy to be? Prioritise putting our university at the forefront of leading change on the climate and ecological emergency and history will remember you. We are running out of time, and we need to act now.
Words: Nian, QMUL
Images: Leda Bartolucci, @jerichovisual