Today at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), the University of Oxford and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the launch of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance – a global network of universities that have made an official pledge to advance efforts to halt, prevent and reverse nature loss through addressing their own impacts and restoring ecosystems harmed by their activities. This push is part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a movement to avert climate catastrophe and mass extinction.
The Nature Positive Universities Alliance brings higher education institutions together to use their unique power and influence as drivers of positive change. Universities already carry out environmental and conservation research to help inform government and company action, but by publicly tackling their own supply chains and operational impacts on nature, universities can help guide the wider community on a path to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
The University of Oxford has an environmental sustainability strategy with dual targets of net zero carbon and a net gain in biodiversity by 2035. These targets for large institutions are challenging to achieve, but through collaboration and idea-sharing with other universities via the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, we can collectively make progress towards achieving biodiversity net gain.
Harriet Waters, Head of Environmental Sustainability
University of Oxford
The initiative, which is part of the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, launches with 117 universities from 48 countries, who have made individual pledges to address their impacts on nature. University pledges include four key elements: 1) Carrying out baseline assessments; 2) Setting specific, time limited and measurable targets for nature; 3) Taking bold action to reduce biodiversity impacts, protect and restore species and ecosystems, while influencing others to do the same; 4) Transparent annual reporting.
The initiative builds on the University of Oxford's experience in setting an ambitious target for biodiversity net gain by 2035 alongside net zero commitments. Oxford's Environmental Sustainability Strategy is founded on a study which quantified its environmental footprint and established a framework to address them.
E.J. Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at the Department of Biology, University of Oxford, and co-founder of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, said:
'As universities, we occupy a unique position in educating future leaders, researching solutions to environmental challenges, and influencing our communities and governments. By addressing our own institutions' environmental impacts, we can be powerful thought leaders while also directly contributing to restoring nature.'
All the founding universities announced today have pledged to assess their impacts to determine the most impactful initiatives to introduce, and to report on their progress. Examples of initiatives so far have included:
- Establishment of nature-friendly infrastructure such as ecological corridors at University of Buenos Aires, Argentina and University of Campinas, Brazil and new green walls at the UK’s University of Lincoln to support pollinators.
- Contributing to afforestation and restoration through the development of institutional forests at Government Dungar College in Bikaner, India, and the University of Aveiro, Portugal.
- Completing university-wide surveys and audits of biodiversity at the University of Turku, Finland, and targets to increase biodiversity for all University of Melbourne campuses.
- Improving their supply chain through sustainable catering, such as reducing food waste and more sustainable menus at the University of Oxford and producing high quality farmed produce on its land to supply university canteens at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria.
- Commitments to improve operational footprints, such as achieving Green Lab accreditation across all University of Exeter laboratories.
- Establishment of regional hubs of universities collaborating towards a nature positive goal in Algeria, Nigeria, India and Canada.
People from a further 408 universities are already a part of the wider network, playing their part in bringing their universities closer to meeting environmental targets, by developing research, lobbying their senior management and sharing case studies of their activities.
The network also includes a Student Ambassador Programme, which totals over 100 students from across 35 countries who are taking action toward nature positive awareness and approaches on their campuses. They are encouraging their universities to make an institutional pledge through advocacy and organisation of nature-positive activities such as volunteering for nature restoration, establishment of sapling nurseries and using their studies to further advance their institutions’ sustainability.
Sam Barratt, Chief of Youth, Education and Advocacy at the UN Environment Programme, said: 'Universities live at the heart of cities, at the crossroads of students’ futures and provide ground-breaking research that educates and informs society. We are delighted to see Universities will be joining hands to reset our relationship with nature so that, through this Alliance, new action and possibilities are created. The virtue of higher education has come from a reappraisal of the present to then steer the world to a new future. We look forward to seeing how the Nature Positive Universities Alliance does just that for this agenda too.'
The Nature Positive Universities Alliance is calling on other universities worldwide to join its collaborative network and to make institutional pledges.
Information on different ways for universities and their members to engage, or how to ask your university to consider making a pledge, can be found at www.naturepositiveuniversities.net.