Climate Sustainability in the Academic System

The sixth assessment report of the IPCC highlights the urgency of the climate crisis. To meet the goals of the Paris agreement, swift and transformative change across all sectors of industry, policy and society are now required, including academia. To this end, a special focus needs to be placed on travel practices and physical versus virtual mobility. 

The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged a re-thinking of working modes and practices leaving no domain untouched, including academia. In this transformation, researchers are investigating the role the academic system can play in mitigating greenhouse emissions and the potential for a new framework to conduct more climate-friendly research. How can we achieve this without compromising excellence and international collaboration? Are there co-benefits of digital exchanges such as an increased international participation? 

In the past decades, attending international scientific conferences and on-site international collaboration have been major drivers of research. Now, reducing the carbon footprint through digital exchanges and finding alternatives to emission-intensive transportation could help make academia more sustainable. ALLEA is working with its Member Academies and international experts to examine the options for a new model of climate sustainability for the academic system. 

About the Project

Led by its member Die Junge Akademie (German Young Academy), the project aims to develop a proposal for a sustainable transformation of academia that is deliberated, balanced and accounts for all relevant perspectives such as to meet the challenge of a climate sustainable academia without leaving excellence in research behind and without diminishing international exchange and collaboration in academia.   

The members of the working group, representing a variety of disciplines, countries, and generations, seek to review the existing knowledge, experiences, and data on the climate impact of academia and to take stock of pertinent best-practice examples set in motion in similar contexts. In their ongoing efforts, the group will take a closer look at relevant stakeholders such as universities, research institutes, individual researchers and students, funding agencies and learned societies and academies to collect and discuss examples of climate-sustainable practices. As such, the group intends to elaborate on considerations relative to climate sustainable academia and present their findings in 2022.

Central themes of the group include:

  • Assessment of the climate impact of academia 
  • Travel culture in academia; virtual and physical mobility 
  • Best practices for climate sustainable academia 
  • Outlook on future practice for climate sustainable academia 

Panel Discussion

On 1 February 2022, ALLEA hosted the online panel ‘Climate Sustainability in the Academic System – the Why & the How.’ This event provided a platform for discussion on the climate impact of the academic system and potential pathways towards more sustainable practices.

Panelists offered an overview of the current levels of CO2-equivalent emissions that can be tied to specific academic work. The discussion focused on the steps that universities, research centres, funding institutions as well as individual students and researchers can take to reduce their climate impact.

A summary of the event is available here.

ALLEA Report

The Report Towards Climate Sustainability of the Academic System in Europe and beyond, published in May 2022 by the ALLEA Working Group, delves into academia’s impact on the climate through its own operations from the perspective of various stakeholders that play a key role in shaping the academic system.

The authors evaluate the operations of different actors that jointly set the standards and framework conditions of the academic system, namely Universities; Research Institutes; Students; Individual Academics; Funding Organisations; Conference Organisers; Ranking Agencies; Policy Makers; and Academies, Learned Societies and Professional Bodies.

The report provides a series of best-practice examples and concrete recommendations that could lead to a significant reduction in the levels of GHG emissions that the academic system produces every year.

  • Astrid Eichhorn – Die Junge Akademie, Germany (Chair) 
  • Carlo Barbante – National Academy of the Lincei, Italy 
  • Magnus Breitholtz – Stockholm University, Sweden 
  • Valerie Domcke – Die Junge Akademie, Germany 
  • Antonin Fejfar – Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic 
  • Raphael Heffron – Young Academy of Scotland/Royal Society of Edinburgh, United Kingdom 
  • Jan Hladky – Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic 
  • Debbie Hopkins – University of Oxford, United Kingdom 
  • Agnes Kreil – ETH Zurich, Switzerland 
  • Ambreena Manji – Learned Society of Wales, United Kingdom 
  • Mykolas Simas Poškus  Mykolas Romeris University
  • Jana Prodanova – Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Macedonia 
  • Sverker Sörlin – KTH Stockholm, Sweden 
  • Diarmuid Torney – Royal Irish Academy, Ireland 
  • Bart Vermang – Young Academy of Belgium/Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts, Belgium 

ALLEA Contact

Emily Pollak
Corporate Communications Officer