We may be a small state, but we sure are mighty. The University of Tasmania (UTAS) has been ranked number one on the specific goal of climate change action for universities internationally, not just once, but twice. What’s more, the university has also been ranked 5th in the world for its commitment and performance against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate change has been a topic of concern for many years now and UTAS’ Chief Sustainability Officer, Corey Peterson, stresses that it is not as far away as we may think.
“The climate emergency and broader environmental crisis is happening now, and changes need to be made urgently.” Mr. Peterson said.
UTAS has been carbon neutral certified since 2016. In accordance with the Australian Government Initiative scheme, Climate Active, an organisation is certified as carbon neutral once they meet the requirements of the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard, meaning that they measure emissions, reduce emissions, offset remaining emissions and then publicly reports on this achievement.
The state’s university divested from fossil fuel investments in 2021 and dramatically reduced embodied carbon in new buildings and has committed to reducing gross carbon emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2030.
As Mr. Peterson points out, the university is not only leading the nation in climate change action but has excelled in many other sustainability areas, and in doing so, has earnt a ranking of 5th in the world by the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for its performance against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), assessing more than 1500 universities from 110 countries.
The SDGs “were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” As stated by the United Nations Development Programme. They comprise of 17 elements:
1.) No poverty
2.) Zero hunger
3.) Good health and wellbeing
4.) Quality education
5.) Gender equality
6.) clean water and sanitation
7.) Affordable and clean energy.
8.) Decent work and economic growth
9.) Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10.) Reduced inequalities
11.) Sustainable cities
12.) Responsible consumption and production
13.) Climate action
14.) Life below water
15.) Life on land
16.) Peace, justice and strong institutions
17.) Partnerships for the goals
The universities’ commitment to sustainability action shows through them working their way up the global rating ladder over the past 3 years. They were ranked number 76th against these standards only two years ago in 2021, and then ranked 25th just last year.
Mr. Peterson stresses that the university sustaining their sustainability excellence into the future is far more important than ranking number one globally next year. Although, he does say that it would be a great achievement.
“There is a potential that we could get to number one next year,” he says.
“Although, I don’t want to get to number one with SDGs and then have people take their focus off it. I’d rather say that holistically we are doing great across all 17 SDGs permanently into the future.”
Mr. Peterson says that he believes universities across Australia aren’t far behind in following in UTAS’ footsteps for sustainability.
“Most universities will follow as students are demanding it,” Mr. Peterson says.
“In order to inform the university and drive the sustainability agenda, in 2020 we looked at external surveys about what students expect to see in a sustainable university. Students responded how important it is that a university does something in the way of sustainability, and two-thirds responded that it was very important. However, the same students shared that they considered their current university as ‘somewhat’ environmentally friendly.”
Mr. Peterson strongly expresses that sustainability is not only about the environment.
“There is a lot of demand from students across the nation for sustainability. Gen Zs are particularly concerned for climate change. However, the point that I want to make to senior leaders is that it’s not just climate change, it’s holistic. There’s mental health, gender equality, there’s poverty, etc. and Gen Z really comprehends this holistic approach, it’s not just about climate change per se.”
It is evident that the University of Tasmania will continue its excellence in not just climate change, but in sustainability as a whole.