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Professor Karen O'Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, stood smiling with arms folded, in front of bookshelves

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O'Brien, explores how we are contributing to achieving environmental sustainability, locally and globally.

Climate change is now widely agreed to be the most significant threat facing the world today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued the stark warning that only a “now or never” dash to a low-carbon economy will give us a chance of limiting future heating to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

We all have a part in achieving environmental sustainability, universities included. Friday 22 April was the annual Earth Hour and from Thursday 28 April the ways universities are making a difference are being highlighted through the ‘MadeAtUni: Climate Action’ campaign.

Progress at Durham

Here at Durham, we are making significant progress in this area. We have a dedicated Energy and Sustainability Team which co-ordinates environmental initiatives, aided by staff environmental champions and student representatives.

Each year we run the Green Move Out scheme, which allows students to donate unwanted items to charity; a MyGreenspace app allows our staff and students to log environmental activities; and last year we launched the Greenspace Festival – a now-annual opportunity to raise awareness and share ideas.

We hold the highest status in EcoCampus, an environmental management scheme for colleges and universities, and were recently ranked in the top 30 in the People and Planet ‘Green Universities’ league.

Our recent new buildings, the Teaching and Learning Centre, Sports and Wellbeing Park at Maiden Castle and our new Mathematical Sciences and Computer Science building, were built to high sustainability standards; and we’ve invested over £6m in supporting sustainable travel around campus, developing new and improved cycle and walking routes.

Leading on environmental research

Our researchers are also leading the way, across various fields of expertise. Our geographers recently shed new light on the vulnerability of the world’s largest ice sheet; our chemists are exploring how to safely and cost effectively remove greenhouse gases from livestock barns; and our bioscientists studying bird movements have warned that climate change may make winter migration a thing of the past, impacting eco-systems both here and in Africa.

However, we are not complacent – we know there is more we can do. We’re working with the Carbon Trust to identify ‘hot spots’ on our campus, developing further carbon management plans and introducing new environmental programmes to equip students and graduates of the future to deliver real change.

Working together

Of course, on such a broad and complex challenge we need to work together. We’re part of County Durham’s campaign to reduce single use plastics and recently members of the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) visited Durham to hear about how our engineers are helping the Church of England meet its carbon reduction targets. They also learned more about our Durham Energy Institute, which works across disciplines to ensure sustainable and resilient low-carbon energy systems can be developed which meet the needs of different contexts and ensure fair access for everyone.

We look forward to working with you to achieve a sustainable city and planet we can all enjoy.

Find out more
- Join our Greenspace Movement
- We're the most improved university in the People and Planet Green University League

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