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Staff and students lobby QUT to take climate action: ‘Declare a climate emergency’

By October 4, 2022 October 27th, 2022 No Comments

An open letter to the QUT Faculty of Business and Law urging ambitious climate action has been referred to the University by the QUT Student Guild, after having been disregarded for six months. 

The letter, co-signed by twelve faculty members, was submitted last year and called for a formal acknowledgement of a climate crisis and immediate, drastic action to reduce emissions within the faculty and university. 

Academics within the faculty moved the issue again in semester one with the introduction of a petition, after hearing no response from the faculty. 

In response to this, the QUT Student Guild wrote to QUT in support of the faculty members, asking the University to take further action on climate change, declare a climate emergency, and commit to climate action. 

Student Guild President Oscar Davison said a commitment to sustainability is different to a commitment to climate action. 

‘QUT said they had already declared a climate emergency, and are working heavily in this space,’ Davison said. 

‘I highlighted that this is very unlikely as QUT academics working in climate change related fields believe otherwise, and there is no information online suggesting QUT has done this.’

‘If QUT had already declared an emergency, then they should have no issues publicising it further and championing the cause.’ 

Staff organisers of the open letter were also surprised to hear that the University were working in this space. 

‘This is also news to me as there is no formal or written declaration on the QUT website and nothing has even been made public to my knowledge,’ one organiser said. 

‘From our perspective there remains a need to declare a climate emergency [and a] commitment to climate action – which is different from saying you are committed to sustainability.’ 

Davison eventually met with the newly appointed Executive Director of Sustainability, Kerrie Wilson, who established a Carbon Strategy working group within QUT. 

Wilson is keen for further action at QUT. 

‘We established the Carbon Strategy working group in August to develop key principles, targets, and pathways to form the basis of a new Carbon Management Plan for the university,’ Wilson said.

‘We want to make sure we are drawing on all the relevant expertise and perspectives in the university, so the group includes professional staff like our Energy Manager, Procurement Director, and Chief Financial Officer, as well as academic experts in areas such as environmental economics, carbon accounting, and environmental law, as well as the President of the QUT Student Guild.’

‘One message that came through very clearly in the results of the Sustainability Survey we ran in April this year is that QUT staff and students are very keen for the university to take strong climate action.’

‘All our current sustainability goals are set out in the QUT Sustainability Action Plan, which ranges across thirteen domains – from energy, water, and waste to research, education, and engagement.’

‘Our main climate goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030.’

Wilson says the University’s support for the development of a large new solar farm at Columboola in western Queensland is an investment that will supply 50% of QUT’s energy.

‘I think our climate goals do go far enough, but when they were set a few years ago we hadn’t planned out all the steps to achieve them, which is where the new Carbon Strategy working group comes in,’ Wilson said.

‘We’ll be reviewing and revising the Sustainability Action Plan over the next few months, and that gives us an opportunity to set new targets and actions.’

‘To achieve our climate goals, we need to better define, measure, and mitigate our scope 3 carbon emissions – these are the emissions QUT is indirectly responsible through our activities, such as commuting to campus, catching planes to conferences, and disposal of campus waste.’

These emissions are harder to quantify than the University’s scope 1 emissions, which are directly produced by QUT (I.e., fuel for their car fleet) and scope 2 emissions, linked to the electricity QUT purchases. 

Wilson believes that QUT has made a strong commitment on climate change in recent years, but acknowledges the University hasn’t formally declared a climate emergency. 

‘In an opinion piece published in The Australian newspaper earlier this year, QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Sheil wrote that “we face a climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis and the next decade is critical”,’ Wilson said. 

‘[Sheil] outlined five ways in which universities must address climate change.’ 

‘Last year we published a Climate Change Statement, saying that we aim to not only meet, but to significantly exceed, the reduction targets outlined in the Paris Agreement by 2030.’ 

As QUT and the Carbon Strategy working group continue to revise the Sustainability Action Plan, Wilson believes the University has another opportunity to clearly communicate the magnitude and urgency of the climate and other environmental challenges the world faces. 

The initial Carbon Strategy working group includes: 

  • The Executive Director of Sustainability 
  • The Chief Financial officer 
  • The Head of Marketing 
  • The Head of Facilities Management 
  • The Head of Procurement 
  • The Head Energy Manager 
  • First Nations Stakeholders 
  • The Student Guild President 

 

Read the open letters from both QUT Faculty of Business & Law staff and the QUT Student Guild below.

The staff of the Faculty of Business and Law’s petition can be viewed, here.

 

Open Letter Calling for QUT Faculty of Business & Law to Declare a Commitment to Strong and Ambitious Climate Action 

Monday 15th November 2021

We hereby call for the QUT Faculty of Business and Law to declare a commitment to strong and ambitious Climate Action to address the climate crisis – with immediate effect. In doing so, we call for our Faculty to be a first mover among Australian Universities, and join academic institutions across the world, who have also committed to urgent Climate Action.

Human activity is dramatically changing the Earth’s climate in unprecedented ways. The 2021 Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that temperatures around the world are likely to rise by more than 1.5oC within the next two decades, bringing widespread extreme weather events such as bushfires, heat waves, droughts, storms, heavy rainfall and floods. We wish to acknowledge the devastating health, ecological, social, economic and political impacts that climate change is having and will continue to have, in Australia and across the world.

Only a rapid and drastic reduction in greenhouse gases over the next decade can prevent such climate breakdown, with every fraction of a degree of further heating likely to compound the accelerating effects, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science.

As a Faculty we must join our international colleagues in acknowledging the role that our existing approaches to teaching, research and practice in Business and Law have in many ways contributed towards and helped perpetuate the Climate Crisis. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. We can no longer continue to teach our students, focus our research, and orient our corporate organisation in ways that predominantly focus on perpetual growth and development, delivering profits and shareholder value, promoting (often excessive) consumption, espousing management and accountancy practices that serve corporate rather than social and planetary concerns, and entrenching law and regulation that upholds rather than transforms our current forms of social organisation.

We identify a clear opportunity for our teaching, research and practice to work to protect flora and fauna, people and planet. A commitment to Climate Action should be embedded through the very fabric of our Faculty and be reflected in our policies, strategies, culture, teaching, research, and everyday practices. We believe our students, our graduates, and our alumni can become good environmental and social citizens through their QUT experience and go out into the world to help address climate change through climate action. Our research can and should increasingly focus on the role that Business and Law play in contributing to the Climate Crisis, but can also create interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary opportunities for innovation, critical thinking, and ethical practice in Climate Action. Our operations as a Faculty should set the standards for being an organisation committed to Climate Action, to reducing carbon emissions, and supporting changes in human activity that prevent catastrophe.

As the University for the Real World, QUT must react to the global climate crisis as it is undeniably the right thing to do. As the largest faculty in our University, we must take the lead and cannot wait until others speak up. Putting Climate Action at the heart of our agenda is consistent with our QUT values of integrity and inclusiveness, and our aims to change lives for the better, support our community, and the world at large now and for future generations. Declaring a commitment to Climate Action can only enhance our global reputation. Climate Action is now at the front of the global political agenda, and all organisations in both the public and private sectors are being held to a much higher level of scrutiny in this regard.

Considering the academic expertise we possess and the role that we play as education providers, QUT and indeed all Universities have a special duty to provide leadership in thought and action. There is also a strong expectation from staff and students to show leadership in addressing the climate emergency. QUT respondents to the United Nations’ UN75 one-minute survey believe climate change, the environment and sustainability are the key issues facing the global community, with most feeling that people will be worse off in 25 years’ time than they are today. So, the time for action is NOW!

Below we present a list of recommendations and actions that will facilitate our Faculty’s commitment to Climate Action and to the QUT Blueprint 6 strategy :

  1. Develop the new QUT Faculty of Business and Law Strategy with a commitment to Climate Action at its heart, positioning our faculty as a leader within the university.
  2. Consult with and involve staff, students and stakeholders in meaningful and participatory ways in developing Climate Policy, Strategy and Action – and continue to do so on an ongoing basis.
  3. Commit to working in partnership with, and empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be at the forefront of our Climate Action activities. Embed Indigenous Australians’ knowledge regarding managing our climate and being sustainable into Faculty policy, strategy, teaching, research and practice relating to Climate Action.
  4. Develop a plan and take responsibility at a faculty level to enable us to halve our carbon emissions over the next decade, and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This plan should consider our carbon footprint, resource use, water consumption, the impact of future development, and a transition to clean energy systems.
  5. Transform our teaching curriculum by embedding a commitment to climate action that aligns with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Universities Partnership Programme. This should involve orienting our teaching and research to focus on embedding a commitment to climate action in law, organisational policy, strategy and activities in the commercial and public sector, reducing consumption, cutting back on waste, respecting and protecting the natural environment, responsible investment, promoting sound environmental law and climate justice, and espousing a commitment to a low carbon economy and green jobs.
  6. Commit to ongoing dialogue, consultation, consensus building, and development and delivery of additional relevant Climate Action activities as required. Clear mechanisms should be developed to facilitate this process such as the formatting of a standing and fully representative Faculty Climate Action committee, a process of monitoring, review and accountability, and regular community dialogue and consultation forums.

Signed by:

  • Professor Ross Gordon 
  • Dr Steph Jowett 
  • Emmanuel Economou 
  • Dr Edwina Luck 
  • Dr Carla Liuzzo 
  • Professor Ellie Chapple 
  • Calista Castles 
  • Dr Rio Rodrigues 
  • Associate Professor Bridget Lewis 
  • Associate Professor Rowena Maguire
  • Associate Professor Saiful Karim 
  • Dr Alexandra Williamson 

 

In support of this open letter, the QUT Student Guild presented it to the University administration, supported by a letter of their own.

 

Open Letter Calling for Queensland University of Technology to Declare a Commitment to Strong and Ambitious Climate Action 

Tuesday 14 June 2022

On 15 November 2021, Academics from the Faculty of Law and Business wrote an open letter calling for the faculty to declare a commitment to strong and ambitious Climate Action.

We, the QUT Student Guild, would like to support and add to their call to action, demanding that the Queensland University of Technology (‘QUT’) declare a commitment to strong and ambitious Climate Action to address the climate crisis – with immediate effect. We call upon QUT to solidify itself as the ‘University for the Real World’ and become the first Australian University and join academic institutions worldwide that have also committed to climate action.[1]

Human activity has and continues to have the world’s climate in unprecedented ways. The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (‘IPCC’) report warns that global temperatures will likely rise by more than 1.5°C in the next two decades.[2] The temperature rise is likely to bring extreme weather events, including bushfires, heat waves, storms, and widespread flooding. These are all events we have seen in the last decade, including severe flooding in South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales at the beginning of 2022, and the science suggests these events will become more frequent. The QUT Student Guild wishes to acknowledge the devastating ecological, health, social, economic, and political impacts that climate change is and will continue to have across Australia and globally.

The only solution to the Climate Crisis, we find ourselves, is a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases over the next decade. However, every fraction of a degree of warming risks compounding the effects of climate change, according to the ICPP.

As an institution, QUT must join its international colleagues and acknowledge the role it has also played in exacerbating the Climate Crisis. Maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable. QUT can no longer teach, research, and orient itself in a way that focuses on perpetual growth, to help future shareholders and promote over-consumption in a way that helps corporate interests rather than our planetary and human interests.

QUT Academics attempted to instigate change within their faculties. However, these conversations have not led to change. QUT can initiate university-wide reforms and acknowledgements that will push similar institutions to do the same and better our country and planet.

QUT has already taken great steps in this area, including committing to divesting its fossil fuel shares in 2016 and enhancing research aimed at mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change and extending the public understanding of environmental challenges, including climate change.[3] However, QUT can and should go further.

QUT’s priorities listed in Blueprint 6, include Sustainability and the Environment.

QUT is committed to living lightly upon the earth and reducing our impact on the environment, while improving our institutional resilience

QUT will demonstrate this commitment by:

  • Extending the public understanding of environmental challenged, including climate change[4]

In the spirit of this commitment, QUT should formally and publicly commit to urgent Climate Action, which should be embedded through the essence of QUT. Our fellow students, graduates and alumni can become good environmental citizens through their QUT life and go out into the world empowered to help address Climate Change through Climate Action. QUT’s research should focus on addressing and mitigating the Climate Crisis QUT has played a part in creating across all disciplines. QUT can set the University standard in Australia for being an organisation committed to Climate Action by further reducing emissions and supporting changes in human and corporate behaviour that prevent exacerbating this crisis.

QUT advertises itself as the “University for the Real World”. Climate Change is the real-world issue of our times. As the University for the Real World, QUT must react to the climate crisis. Will QUT push for real-world change and cement its status as the University firmly planted in the real world, or will QUT wait for another University to act and follow suit?

Climate Action is at the heart of QUT’s agenda and values integrity and inclusiveness. As stated, this commitment is in line with Blueprint 6 and QUT’s ‘Sustainability and the Environment priorities. In addition, declaring a commitment to Climate Action will enhance QUT’s international reputation. Climate Change and Climate Action are at the forefront of global and political agendas, and all organisations are being held to higher standards regarding their impact on and commitments to solving Climate Change.

QUT Academics have spoken out supporting a commitment to Climate Action at QUT. It is time QUT listens to the breadth of academic expertise at its fingertips and considers the duty QUT and other Universities have to safeguard the future. In addition, there are strong expectations amongst QUT Students and Staff to show leadership in addressing the Climate Emergency.[5]

As the elected representative body of QUT Students, we, the QUT Student Guild, call upon QUT to commit to Climate Action. Below is a list of recommendations and actions, built upon those developed by Academics within the Faculty of Business and Law, that will support QUT’s commitment to Climate Action and the Blueprint 6.

  1. Publicly acknowledge QUT’s commitment to Climate Action, being the first University in Australia to do so.
  2. Develop new learning and teaching strategies with a commitment to Climate Action, positioning QUT as a leader amongst educational institutions in Australia.
  3. Commit to working in partnership with, and empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to be at the forefront of our Climate Action. Only when supported by First Nations people’s knowledge regarding the management of our climate and sustainability can QUT’s commitment to Climate Action be legitimised.
  4. Develop a plan for QUT to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This plan should consider QUT’s carbon footprint, resource use, water consumption, the impact of future developments, and further transitions to clean energy sources.
  5. Transform QUT’s teaching curriculum by embedding a commitment to climate action that aligns with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Universities Partnership Programme.[6] This should involve orienting QUT’s teaching and research to focus on embedding a commitment to climate action in organisational policy, strategy and activities in the commercial and public sector, reducing consumption, cutting back on waste, respecting and protecting the natural environment, responsible investment, promoting sound climate justice and a low carbon economy.
  6. Commit to ongoing dialogue, consultation, consensus building, and development and delivery of additional relevant Climate Action activities as required. Clear mechanism

[1] Brendan O’Malley, ‘Networks of 7000 Universities declare Climate Emergency’, University World News (online, 10 July 2019) <https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20190710141435609>. 

[2] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ (2021) <https://www.doi.org/10.1017/9781009157896>.

[3] Nick Kilvert, ‘Queensland University of Technology Commits to Divesting its Fossil Fuel Shares’ ABC News (online, 5 September 2016) <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-05/qut-to-divest-fossil-fuel-investments/7816016>; Queensland University of Technology, ‘Blueprint 6’ 2021, pp 3, 9.

[4] Ibid 9.

[5] Peter Kalmus, ‘Climate Depression is Real. And it is spreading fast among our youth’ The Guardian (online, 4 November 2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/04/climate-depression-youth-crisis-world-leaders>.

[6] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ‘UN Climate Change and Universities Partnership Programme’ (2022)  <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/04/climate-depression-youth-crisis-world-leaders>. 

Tom Loudon

Tom Loudon

Tom (he/him) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and the Editor in Chief at Glass Media. He has a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts (Creative Writing) and is currently studying Communications (Journalism) at QUT.

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