Higher education sector commits to reverse biodiversity decline through worldwide Nature Positive Universities Alliance

Today at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), the University of Oxford and the 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 activities. Still, by publicly tackling their own supply chains and operational impacts on nature, universities can help guide the broader community on a path to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Harriet Waters, Head of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oxford said:

“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.”

The initiative, which is part of the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, launches with 117 universities from 48 countries, that 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, and 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 that 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 infrastructures such as ecological corridors at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 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 organization of nature-positive activities such as volunteering for nature restoration, the 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 actions 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.

About Nature Positive Universities

Nature Positive Universities began in 2022 as a partnership between UNEP and the University of Oxford, established off the back of research by the Department of Biology into the University’s biodiversity footprint. The aim is to engage universities in the prioritization of nature restoration within the higher education sector, which will form a major contribution to the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and the Sustainable Development Goals. Universities have a substantial role to play in moving urgently from degrading nature to restoring it: our students are our future leaders, we create knowledge and nurture thinkers, and we directly impact the planet as land owners and consumers. Uniting universities for ecosystem restoration, therefore, has a wider impact on our local communities and beyond.

More information can be found at www.naturepositiveuniversities.net

About the University of Oxford

Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the seventh year running, and ​number 2 in the QS World Rankings 2022. At the heart of this success are the twin pillars of our ground-breaking research and innovation and our distinctive educational offer.

Oxford is world-famous for research and teaching excellence and is home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research alongside our personalized approach to teaching spark imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.

Through its research commercialization arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 200 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years. The university is a catalyst for prosperity in Oxfordshire and the United Kingdom, contributing £15.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018/19, and supports more than 28,000 full-time jobs.

The Department of Biology is a University of Oxford department within the Maths, Physical, and Life Sciences Division. It utilizes academic strength in a broad range of bioscience disciplines to tackle global challenges such as food security, biodiversity loss, climate change, and global pandemics. It also helps to train and equip the biologists of the future through holistic undergraduate and graduate courses. 

For more information visit www.biology.ox.ac.uk.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and its partners, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.

Find out how you can contribute to the UN Decade. 

Follow #GenerationRestoration.

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