Durham students rally at climate strike

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Around 200 Durham students took part in a climate protest on Friday against Durham University’s current sustainability policy.

The protest was led by Durham University Amnesty International (DUAI) and  Environmental Community of Durham University (ECO DU), a student group at Durham University lobbying for action on the environment.

“We want everyone to have their voice heard, for everyone to come together to unify over something.”

Evie Hill, ECO DU

The event was supported and attended by nineteen other societies from around the University who gathered outside the Bill Bryson Library to unite, give speeches, and sing chants.

Evie Hill, a representative for ECO DU, told Palatinate: “This movement started in February when we set up ECO DU because we realised basically the University had no climate change group who were doing anything tangible so we wanted something to start happening as they had been ignoring climate change for the past three or four years.

“We set up this strike so everyone can get involved, that’s why we’ve asked so many associations to join us because we want everyone to have their voice heard, for everyone to come together to unify over something.”

Durham ranked 96th in the People and Planet 2019 University League

The strike was organised to draw the University’s attention to the twenty-two demands made by ECO DU’s report into the University’s environmental policy.

stated how she believed that all 22 demands were  “all things which we think the University can quite literally do and implement. Things about food waste, things about where they source food, carbon neutrality of buildings, very tangible things which we think they can do.”

Andrea Vismara from ECO DU and student protestors

Andrea Vismara, from ECO DU, remarked that “carbon emissions reductions are something we also really care about, it is a tangible goal, something which you can measure.”

This year, Durham ranked 96th in the People and Planet 2019 University League, which ranked universities by environmental and ethical performance.

On the Tuesday morning before the strike, Durham University Amnesty International issued an open letter on behalf of the strikers to the University’s Executive Committee. The letter detailed the twenty-two demands and invited the Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Corbridge, to meet the protesters.

These demands were written with the aim of ensuring Durham University could contribute towards the Paris Agreement target to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees increase. Among the demands included a pledge to make new university buildings carbon neutral, a request to impose a carbon tax on the University’s own activities with the tax funds used to develop sustainable initiatives, and for the University to revise their ‘Sustainability Action Plan’.

Durham student protestors on Friday with their placards

Ieuan Chappel, President of Durham Amnesty International, spoke to Palatinate about the actions he believes Durham should take: “Durham is such a huge institution, they could be doing so much more to be supporting the environment.

“This university makes many promises which just turn out to be empty. There have been targets that have been set and not followed through. The university needs to be held to account.”

Eden Szymura, Publicity Officer for Amnesty International, said: “I’m here personally because I want to hold the university accountable for actions they can change. There needs to be structural change, rather than just individual change regarding the environment. The university hasn’t been doing nearly enough when it comes to green policy and they should be, we are their students, we pay their fees”

“This university makes many promises which just turn out to be empty. There have been targets that have been set and not followed through. The university needs to be held to account.”

Ieuan Chappel, President of Durham Amnesty International,

“They’re building all these estates but they’re not making them carbon-neutral, they’re not looking enough into how they could operate in a sustainable way. They have this expansion plan till 2027 and it’s nowhere near green enough.”

In response to the letter from Amnesty International, Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, stated: “The University leadership shares the concern of the student body over the impacts of human-induced climate change on society and the natural environment.

“It recognises the role of Durham University in developing a more sustainable society through all three strands of the University vision – education, research, and the wider student experience.”

“UEC is setting up a Task Force whose role will be to propose ambitious but realistic carbon-reduction targets for Durham University, which could be implemented in a meaningful and sustainable way”

Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden

Corbridge continued: “We welcome the engagement of students in all our activities around the sustainability agenda – for example, through the Environmental Sustainability Strategic Planning Group, the Global Strategy Group, and the Sustainable Development Goals Group.

“We welcome proposals from the Durham Students’ Union, as representatives of the student body, on ways in which the University can be more sustainable and will work with them on how initiatives to meet sustainability goals might be delivered.”

Within Corbridge’s reply, he discussed that the “Office of the Vice-Chancellor convened a Climate Emergency Working Group, whose membership included students” over summer who were formed to “consider the challenges and opportunities that would accompany a Declaration of a Climate Emergency by the University.”

This Working Group “recommended that the University should first explore how commitments would be implemented, how they would be measured, what they would cost and what would be the implications for the mission of the University and for its students and staff.”

On 1 October 2019, the University Executive Committee endorsed the next steps proposed by the Working Group.

Corbridge stated: “UEC is setting up a Task Force whose role will be to propose ambitious but realistic carbon-reduction targets for Durham University, which could be implemented in a meaningful and sustainable way, and to draft a Declaration that would be critically informed by the IPCC recommendations. The Task Force will report by June 2020.

“Students will, of course, be represented on the Task Force and the input of the wider University community will be key. We look forward to working with the student body over the coming months.”

Professor Colin Bain, Durham University’s Vice-Provost (Research), added: “We recognise the importance of addressing climate change and are working across our whole community to make Durham an environmentally sustainable university.

“We have introduced strong environmental policies to reduce carbon emissions and promote awareness of environmental issues. Our researchers are working with Durham County Council to help them realise their ambitious plan to decarbonise County Durham.”

The executive of Amnesty International stated that if any student felt engaged by this protest, they should “mobilise” their voices, join environmental groups but enforced the power of “showing up and using your voice, don’t underestimate the power of your voice.”

Chappel also enforced: “This isn’t something that is going to be solved by individual action, it’s got to be a change that is systemic that is needed to solve the climate crisis. Durham University is a powerful institution that has some powerful people who can make a difference.”

Images by Caitlin Kinney

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