Despite the climate system’s complexity, we understand a great deal about the basic mechanisms, including e.g. the importance of the greenhouse effect in governing the global average temperature. We know that the climate is changing at a pace that’s much faster than in the geological record, we know from many different lines of evidence that the current changes are predominantly human-induced, and we know that the risks involved are real and far-reaching. - Dr. Bart Verheggen (AUC lecturer, tutor and climate change scientist)
Call to action
The need to take definitive action is pressing. The release of the August 2021 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report reaffirms that climate change is real, human-caused and has potentially irreversible impacts. The report states that it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Global warming already affects weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. The average global surface temperature will continue to increase until (at least) the middle of this century under every emissions scenario considered. Due to this increase, many aspects of the climate system have already become and will continue to become, more extreme. For example, we are facing more frequent and more intense extreme heat, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation, periods of drought and intense tropical cyclones. This is compounded by the reductions in Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost. The temperature increase of 1.5°- 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless very strong reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions are made in the coming decades. The need for immediate and serious action is clear.
In this context, universities and institutes involved in research have an especially important role. As centres of knowledge production, analysis and dissemination, they must continue to make advancements in methods and technologies for reducing humanity’s effect on the climate and ensure that the wider public is informed and understands the reality of our predicament. AUC's programme is tailored to increase understanding of the climate system and the urgency for action. Universities must take the lead in showing responsibility toward both society and the environment in transforming research into policy, and policy into action.
We cannot accept that humans, as part of nature, in a few hundred years destroy life that has developed over billions of years. I do not want to be the cause of thousands of people fleeing and dying, only because we could not change our behaviour fast enough. I am convinced that we, as the next leading generation, must act now and cannot wait until politicians and economists decide to act. Universities must position themselves at the forefront of this fight against climate change, must educate students and staff, and must show the world that we do not accept the current state of destruction. - Augustine Schulte-Frohlinde (AUC Student, Class of 2020)
Along with other institutes of higher education in the Netherlands, AUC supports the sentiments and goals outlined in the Climate letter (Klimaatbrief Universiteiten). Reducing carbon emissions requires a comprehensive approach throughout the organisation, ranging from identifying problematic sources of energy and consumption patterns to policies on work travel, commuting habits and the products served in its cafeterias.
AUC is dedicated to addressing the climate crisis by setting an example not only for its students and employees but for other universities and organisations as well. From re-doubling our efforts to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency, to integrating climate change into our curriculum and recognising the mental health stress caused by the subject matter, AUC is prepared to take the difficult steps necessary in setting a course for a sustainable future.
Completed in 2012, the AUC academic building was constructed based on principles of sustainable design and is exemplary of the wider UvA strategy toward environmentally aware development practices. Its compact nature offers an optimal ratio between floor and facade surface areas to keep energy loss to a minimum, a heat-cold storage complex retains redundant heat and cool air underground for temperature regulation (summer/winter) and the building is part of the “join the pipe” initiative to encourage students, staff and visitors to drink tap water. In 2016, these efforts were expanded with the installation of 116 solar panels on our roof as a step toward the UvA using 100% green electricity sources.
Addressing global change
Although progress has been made toward energy efficiency, we want to do more. This will include encouraging employees to avoid unnecessary air travel or participate in carbon offsetting initiatives, making vegetarian meals the standard for institutional events and investigating ways in which we can work with our catering services on further waste reduction.
We will also continue working with the University of Amsterdam toward its goal of further reducing carbon emissions. Over the coming five years (2021-2026), we will work together in aiming for a 25% reduction of our ecological footprint university-wide which will be driven by initiatives such as the reduction of paper consumption, reduction of disposables and decreasing the ecological footprint of our mobility.
Attention to sustainability within AUC's curriculum
Within our own curriculum, we will give due attention to the issues of climate change and the environment. At AUC, students create their own study programme, meaning that they have the ability to be well-prepared for the challenges of climate change, sustainability and global change. Liberal arts and sciences programmes are perfectly shaped to engage students with these issues. By incorporating various bodies of knowledge from multiple disciplines, students can better understand the complexity of the climate crisis and begin to develop sophisticated solutions. We want to provide them with a solid foundation and awareness of how imperative climate change and its consequences will be for their future.
As a university and institute of higher education, AUC embraces its role as being a space for open debate and dialogue. It is also critical to consider the effects of those we choose to partner with, cooperate with and invest in. We have a responsibility to exercise caution in choosing partners and institutions to work with, and particularly those representing views or ethics contrary to founded academic research or which may negatively impact the well-being of future generations. Therefore AUC aims to foster relations that affirm rather than detract from our commitment to a sustainable environment and to apply transparent strategies in choosing, recruiting or collaborating with future partners.
In the coming months, the University of Amsterdam will make an inventory of its current sustainability practices and identify areas where improvements can be made. AUC will be included as part of this inventory.