At national policy level:
YU has been recognised as an external stakeholder in the COP26 University Network, which is a growing group of UK-based universities working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. The Network’s mission is to ensure that the UK academic sector plays a full role in delivering a successful COP26, encouraging all actors to deliver a low-carbon, resilient world. They aim to do so by making access to research evidence and academic expertise for COP26 easier for government, NGOs, and other actors, and by taking action themselves.
Among these actions most recently, there have been two influential briefings: one on ‘Net-zero emissions economic recovery from Covid-19’ another on ‘Just transition: pathways to socially inclusive decarbonisation’, as well as a letter to the Prime Minister. The letter is asking the UK government to commit to a strong plan to cut carbon emissions ahead of a summit on 12 December, which will mark 5 years since the Paris Agreement was signed. All countries are required to submit these plans and the UK has not yet done so. The Chair of YU’s Board, Professor Shirley Congdon, and YU’s Executive Director, Dr Peter O’Brien, were amongst the signatories.
YU has also been granted expert witness status on the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education Students and Leaders that has been established in partnership between the Association of Colleges, EAUC, GuildHE and Universities UK. There’s been a series of virtual evidence gathering sessions and these have culminated in a One Year On conference on 5 November presenting the outputs with regards to the FE Climate Action Roadmap, HE Toolkit and the sectoral targets to the government, leaders, students and the wider sector.
At YU, we have been channelling information and intelligence to our members – many of whom are already engaged in this agenda – via our Policy and Communications Network.
At a regional level:
We organised a joint roundtable with ARUP and member universities earlier this year in May. As an action, we pledged to advocate that the climate change agenda should be firmly embedded within all the plans being prepared in Yorkshire and the Humber to support the rebuilding and recovery of local economies and communities. And that the contribution of universities and higher education should be recognised in these plans.
We have also been making good progress via our close collaboration with West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), as YU is a member of the Combined Authority’s Business, Innovation Growth and Employment and skills Panels. As a result, we’re working with Leeds City Region universities and colleagues from Go Higher West Yorkshire in shaping a new Skills plan for West Yorkshire, as well as through the Green Skills Partnership, making the case that the transition to a green economy will have new skills and training requirements and will present opportunities at all qualification levels in the region.
YU has also been instrumental in establishing the Place-based economic recovery network (PERN), a multi-university network of experts in local and regional economic recovery, established to offer support to WYCA (and other public bodies, such as local authorities) designing, planning and implementing COVID recovery efforts. In July, we organised a series of webinars to directly inform the Combined Authority’s new economic recovery plan. One of the events focussed on clean and green recovery which also tackles the climate emergency, and enabled a productive discussion among participants. PERN focussed on regional housing retrofit as the basis for their response to the BEIS post pandemic economic growth consultation.
Over the next six months and beyond:
We look forward to supporting a new Skills ‘task and finish’ group convened by Policy Yorkshire (PY). This will produce a report on skills requirements in Yorkshire in the context of post-COVID, levelling up and the net zero agendas. YU has been asked to lead on the development of this proposal and the Chair of YU, Professor Congdon, will be chairing the group.
This links to two other areas of activity: the proposed Regional Yorkshire Climate Commission, which will require the coordination amongst our twelve members in the region and the work of the Health and Social Care C-19 recovery planning group who are looking to strengthen labour market and workforce foresight and intelligence to better-match the region’s skill supply with the needs of the healthcare system. Since health and wellbeing and climate change, sustainability and low carbon ambitions are intrinsically interconnected, our task at YU is also to apply systems thinking and ensure that these seemingly separate thematic areas do not happen in isolation from one another. This reflects a well-evidenced approach for place-based development, which advocates systems thinking as an essential soft skill needed in improving sustainability and future employability.