Last Friday, June 5, was World Environment Day, and to mark the occasion, the UNSW Sydney has committed itself to divest from fossil fuels by 2025.
UNSW President and vice-chancellor professor Ian Jacobs said that despite the effects of the catastrophic bushfire season in Australia and the uncertainty of how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect the University, the commitment to making our campuses and operations more sustainable remained stronger than ever.
“Perhaps the most significant decision over the past year was UNSW’s commitment to divest from fossil fuels by 2025, which was agreed at Council in December and welcomed by the UNSW community,” he says.
“The work does not stop there. We are progressing a comprehensive climate risk assessment for our investment portfolio, which will inform our Responsible Investment Framework."
The vice-chancellor says that UNSW’s quest to become the first university in Australia to commit to having 100 percent of its electricity supplied by photovoltaic solar energy was also said to be realised.
In 2017, UNSW entered into a 15-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), under which the Sunraysia Solar Farm would supply all the University’s electricity demand.
The solar farm, covering 1000 hectares, is one of the largest in the world. With the construction of the solar farm now completed, UNSW is on track to switch to 100 percent renewable electricity in 2020.
Other sustainability wins for the University include the success of the Green Impact program with 35 teams completing 768 actions to make workplaces more sustainable, three new onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed on campus, and the creation of a plan to eliminate single-use plastic from campus food services.
UNSW also installed its first secure bike parking facility and saw student and staff active travel increase to 25 percent. The introduction of centralised waste and recycling stations and the elimination of under-desk bins in offices are projected to save more than one million plastic bin liners per year.
The University’s progress was recognised by Greenpeace ranking UNSW as one of the leading Australian organisations progressing towards 100 percent renewable energy. UNSW’s contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) also saw the University ranked first in the world for SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and fourth for SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) in the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.
“It’s one year since we released our Environmental Sustainability Plan and we’re on track to meet the majority of our targets”, UNSW Head of Environmental Sustainability William Syddall says.
“We can celebrate some significant milestones, but there are also areas for improvement, and we’ve been transparent about that in our progress report. Much work lies ahead to realise our vision of being a catalyst for an environmentally sustainable future.”
Professor Jacobs says the existential threat of climate change was one of the world’s greatest challenges.
“The UNSW community has come together to put our plans into action so we might lead by example,” he says.
“On World Environment Day, we should all take time to pause and ask how each and every one of us is contributing to the health of our planet.”
Image: UNSW Solar panels / Supplied