ANU Council says we must act on climate change

19 February 2020

I think universities need to make it easy for people to see how climate change can be mitigated in the future.

The Australian National University Council has called for urgent action to address the growing challenge of climate change.

In a resolution from its latest meeting, ANU Council also said the University will act and "speak strongly in public" to help address climate change across the University and more widely.

Referencing Australia's recent summer, the resolution noted Australians and the ANU community had to deal with severe weather events, including bushfires, smoke and hailstorm.

"These unprecedented severe events have been exacerbated by climate change, as ANU scientists, among others, have long predicted and warned," the resolution reads.

"ANU needs to respond to these challenges with a continued focus on world-leading climate research and adapt to climate change.

"The ANU Council therefore recognises the urgency of action to address the growing climate challenge, to which the University will respond collectively, using the resources at its disposal."

Identified responses include making ANU greenhouse gas negative "as soon as possible", an idea flagged in ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt's 2020 State of the University address.

Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute Professor Mark Howden and his colleagues have been called upon to spearhead this bold goal.

"ANU currently emits greenhouse gases directly from heating buildings, its vehicle fleet, research activities, travel and many minor sources. The first step is to reduce these emissions so as to go close to net zero," Professor Howden said.

"There are often available technologies to do this such as by using electric cars which are charged via the ACT's renewable electricity. Importantly, the IPCC shows that to keep global temperatures to within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels we also have to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - going to net negative emissions.

"This is the aim of the ANU Below Zero initiative. One way of doing this is via management of the trees and soil in ANU's land holdings or, as an interim option, via purchased verified carbon offsets.

"Importantly, the ANU Below Zero initiative aims to integrate the emission-reduction challenge with both teaching and research. For example, research into carbon capture and utilisation. This integrated approach will generate not only innovation in technology and governance but a community of people who understand both the climate change problem and its solutions.

"We will also explore innovative ways of reducing indirect emissions such as those generated when people travel to work."

Speaking on Council's resolution, ANU Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop said the extreme weather events experienced at ANU this summer reflect a much broader national and global challenge.

"Australia is seen by the rest of the world as the frontline when it comes to the impact of climate change with the disastrous bushfires, the torrential rain, and floods that have devastated so much of our community including our wildlife," Ms Bishop said.

"We understand the challenge and that we have the resources with our world-leading research here at ANU to help address these problems.

"It's important for us to raise our concerns and be a leader in ensuring that there is as much information available for the development of policies and initiatives to adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change."

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said universities had a big role to play when it came to addressing climate change.

"I think universities need to make it easy for people to see how climate change can be mitigated in the future," he said.

"There are solutions to how we use energy and how we mitigate the emissions in the future. That comes down to people and technology. And universities of course are all about people and technology.

"Universities are ultimately going to be where the solutions lie to mitigating the effects of climate change and stopping emitting greenhouse gases in the future.

"At ANU we want to lead on this issue. The University has made a decision that it is going to go greenhouse gas negative in the near future because we think we can and to basically show society that it is not that difficult."

Read ANU Council's full resolution here