Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary, University and College Union
Despite a growing body of evidence showing the current and future impacts of climate change, governments are not responding fast enough: education unions can play a pivotal role in the global climate movement, if we build alliances with other trade unions, students and environmental organisations. This is why UCU is fully supporting the Teach the Future campaign.
It is clear that working people and students are on the front lines of climate change. Already 83 million climate-related refugees have fled from disaster. 72 million jobs are threatened. Climate change affects our brothers and sisters – especially our sisters – across the world. UN figures show that 80 per cent of those displaced by climate change are women.
At UCU this work began ten years ago when the union became a founding member of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The decision to commit staff resources has enabled UCU to greatly expand our work on climate change. We now have over 300 UCU green reps across all of the sectors that UCU represent, including prison and adult education and an innovative green reps training programme. UCU’s historic motion to the TUC in September 2019 called on workers to back the 20 September global walkouts and lend 30 minutes of their day to show support for school children taking part in the action. Tackling the climate crisis is now at the forefront of some of our planned bargaining and negotiation work as well as political lobbying.
UCU has been making the case for a long time that our colleges and universities are uniquely placed to provide green skills training and that the investment needs to be made in order for them to do so. It is clear that our young people want green collar jobs. BEIS research in October 2018 established that 3.7 million young people would prefer a job in the green economy to one outside it, for reasons including tackling climate change, ethical motivations, and to work in a growing sector. Vocational courses in colleges urgently need overhauling to reskill the workforce to deliver the transition to a low carbon economy. We need to be lobbying the government to ensure that further education is sufficiently funded to deliver this. The climate crisis is the biggest issue of our time and our learning needs to reflect that.
A crucial element of our climate change policy is building alliances with student organisations and their campaigns. Teach the Future is one such campaign, which shares many of our own policy objectives. Serious work needs to be carried out to change how people learn about sustainability, from cradle to grave: through the key stages of education from early years right through to adult education. This includes the potential for innovative and much needed cross-curriculum development. UCU is supporting a Climate Themed Learning week 10-14 February, to enable teachers, academic and academic related and support staff to consider how we can incorporate climate education not only into the curriculum but also into the workplace, including estates, facilities, catering, IT and library services.
We are also really pleased that speakers from the school strike movement and the NUS will be joining us for our annual Cradle to Grave conference. This year, the conference theme is ‘Climate change, power and society‘.
The conference takes place on Saturday 8 February at TUC Congress House in London. The day will cover issues such as just transition, greening the curriculum, creating greener colleges and universities, and bargaining for environmental change.
Finally, we are currently working closely with SOS-UK and their Director of Education, Quinn Runkle, to develop a Green New Deal for Colleges and Universities which will see our members and our students coordinating with each other to seek urgent and meaningful changes from our colleges and universities within a bargaining and negotiation framework. For example, Divestment will be one of the key bargaining objectives the claim will aim to address. People & Planet together with the NUS and SOS-UK have announced that over half of the UK’s 154 public universities have committed to divest from fossil fuels https://sustainability.nus.org.uk/divest-invest/articles/over-50-of-uk-universities-divest-from-fossil-fuels. The model claim will allow us to build upon these successes whilst demanding action from other employers who have yet to act.
A Green New Deal agreement will maximise the opportunity of stakeholders like staff, students and the wider community to have confidence that climate proofing the organisation will provide a better guarantee of increased job security and job satisfaction.
The claim will be launched over the coming months and we are really excited to be embarking on such an innovative project.
As trade unionists, we need to embrace the activism of our young people and demonstrate our solidarity with the next generation for the good of our planet. This is a fight we now must collectively prioritise. There is a world to win.