Education and climate change

Graham Petersen of the UCU looks at the relationship between the education system and responses to climate change.

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Download the UCU environmental newsletter

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Lecturers’ Union UCU will press colleges and universities to do more on climate change

The University and College Union (UCU) will press UK colleges and universities to do more to prevent damaging climate change.

At its recent annual Congress, UCU union delegates called for all branches of the union – the UK’s tenth biggest – to elect environment reps and to engage with employers to develop sustainable work practices, including carbon reduction strategies, in universities and colleges.

At a well attended environment fringe meeting, members heard Dr Jonathan Neale, National Secretary, Campaign against Climate Change, explained the case for stepping up trade union work on climate related issues. 

Also speaking at the fringe meeting  was Caroline Molloy of the TUC’s Green Workplaces project, who reported  on  carbon reduction progress in  a number of UK workplaces and explained how trades unionists can play a major environmental role in greening workplaces

The congress supported a call for colleges and universities to develop green transport plans and ensure that public transport options are available for staff and students.  Delegates agreed that climate change should not be used by employers as an excuse for worsening conditions of work, such as increasing car parking fees, particularly when acceptable alternative transport options are not provided.

UCU members voted to press their own union to allocate more resources to work on ‘greening’ the campus, the curriculum and UCU.

However, there is concern that some college and university employers are reluctant to work collectively with staff and student representatives to develop carbon reduction plans, despite the institutions’ apparently green credentials.

UCU adopted a sustainability policy a year ago at its first Congress. It has since established a network of college and university staff who want to work on greening their institution. The union supports TUC efforts to promote sustainable practices and is lobbying the government to give union environment reps the same status as health and safety reps, with time to train so they can make the maximum contribution to local green plans.

The union is building bridges with other campaigners and has established a good relationship with student environment and justice organisation People and Planet .   UCU is sending ten reps to the trade union climate change conference on June 16.



1) Dr Jonathan Neale is  senior lecturer in Creative Writing at  Bath Spa Univerity, and a UCU member. He is currently National Secretary, Campaign against Climate Change, and was international secretary 2004-2007. He spoke on climate change at the World Social Forum, around Britain and in many countries, as part of the organision of global demonstrations against climate change – which last year happened in 75 countries.

He is the author of many plays and novels for children and nonfiction for adults.

His Latest book, ‘Stop Global Warming – Change the World’ will be published in September.

2) see latest news of UCU’s green work in attached newsletter

3) UCU’s policies passed at the 2008 congress

96 – Environmental representatives  North West Regional Committee
Congress recognises that staff in Higher and Further Education have a special responsibility in dealing with climate change. They teach the young people who will be tomorrow’s leaders, and who will experience the effects of climate change. They research into the issue, and their research will be affected by it in many subject areas. However, they also work in large built environments which utilise great amounts of energy and produce high volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the increasing mobility of academic staff and students is constantly adding to the carbon footprint of HE and FE institutions.

Congress therefore urges all Branches of UCU, as well as Regions, to elect Environmental Representatives. Their responsibility will be to seek to engage in carbon dioxide reduction negotiations with employers, and help to develop sustainable work practices in universities and colleges that also protect terms and conditions as far as possible.


97 – Climate Change  National Executive Committee

Congress welcomes the adoption by the UCU of the AoC ‘Green Colleges’ document and resolves to pursue further its current policy on climate change through ‘Green Transport Plans’, (See e.g. agreed with employers. In particular, Congress insists that it is the employers’ duty to ensure that timely and appropriate public transport is available to employees. ‘Climate Change’ must not be used as an excuse for worsening conditions of work, such as increasing car parking fees, particularly when acceptable alternatives are not provided. Congress further resolves to support the development of environmental reps as an integral part of UCU’s workplace activity.


98 – Environment  South Thames College

Further to policy adopted at UCU Congress 2007 on the environment and climate change, this Congress:

  • notes the increasing number of reports which highlight the importance of reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change
  • congratulates UCU for developing a network of support and information on environmental issues
  • urges UCU to prioritise resources as necessary to increase its work on ‘greening’ the campus, the curriculum and UCU.

In particular to:

  • press for the adoption of an environment policy in all parts of the HE and FE sectors. These to be subject to consultation and to include an environment audit and targets to reduce energy consumption
  • promote training courses for green reps
  • convene a one day conference to assess and promote workplace initiatives.