Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action -- 2nd Session of the “Global Forum of University Presidents”

As a flagship event for the celebration of Tsinghua’s 110th anniversary, the Global Forum of University Presidents 2021 (GFUP 2021): “Innovate for the Future: Vision and New Mission of Universities” was convened online and offline from April 19 to 24, 2021.

The Second Session of GFUP with the theme Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action was held on April 21, 2020. Nearly 40 universities from 11 countries, including China, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Spain, Japan, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan participated. During the session, 18 university leaders gave presentations, and had in-depth discussions on the universities’ opportunities and actions for carbon neutrality in scientific research, talent cultivation, low carbon campus, student participation, public engagement, and social implementation.


“This session, “Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action”, is an integral part of this dialogue, and I thank you for your valuable participation. Tackling global climate change is a common challenge for all humanity. More and more countries are integrating carbon-neutral commitments into their national strategies and advancing a vision for a zero-carbon future. In this profound transformation, universities are playing a critical role. Universities provide thought leadership and innovation to support their countries to achieve the goals of carbon neutrality. In addition, universities are decarbonizing their campuses and providing examples of best practice.

It is inspiring to see the breadth of expertise from today’s distinguished speakers. This session is an indispensable opportunity for higher education to discuss how to take better responsibility for the shared future of humanity. It is our hope that further action through scientific research, talent cultivation, campus action, student activities, and public engagement will lead to a carbon-neutral world,” Chen Xu, Chairperson of Tsinghua University Council, said in her remarks.


Participation from:

Tsinghua University, Vice President and Provost Professor Yang Bin;

Ecole Polytechnique, President Professor Eric Labaye;

University of British Columbia, President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Santa J. Ono.

In his keynote speech, Professor Yang Bin stressed the role, challenges, and opportunities played by universities in the pathway to global decarbonization. He commended the international community for its outstanding actions in tackling climate change, the most severe and urgent challenge faced by mankind, and pointed out that universities should shoulder the mission of actively responding to climate change through research, education, and technological innovation. He presented Tsinghua University's decarbonization efforts in aspects of scientific research, habit development, and low-carbon transformation. He encouraged universities to strengthen cooperation and exchanges to create a carbon-neutral future for future generations.

The President of the Ecole Polytechnique, Eric Labaye, stressed that universities are critical and should be engaged and committed, playing an essential role to provide solutions to what it is believed to be the most significant challenge facing humanity. This can be demonstrated through education and training, technology and innovation, as well as alliances and partnerships.

Santa J. Ono, President of the University of British Columbia, pointed out that higher education institutions must respond boldly and decisively to the significant challenges brought about by climate change. He shared the climate change initiatives of the University of British Columbia, including the UBC Vancouver Climate Action Plan 2030. He highlighted the fact that we must believe in the power of cooperation and knowledge sharing, rely on a shared campus community, and create carbon-neutral universities and communities around the world through international cooperation.


Participation from:

University of Waterloo, President and Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur;

Hokkaido University, President Kiyohiro Houkin;

Nagoya University, President Seiichi Matsuo;

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Vice President Julio Lumbreras;

Kevin Hall, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Victoria;

University of Iceland, Rector Jon Atli Benediktsson.

Professor Feridun Hamdullahpur, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Waterloo, stressed that tackling climate change urgently needed the wisdom and strength of universities around the world, and he proposed to work together to find solutions in various fields such as technology, public policy and public education.

Professor Kiyohiro Houkin, President of Hokkaido University, introduced the university’s efforts in campus carbon reduction practices and sustainable development research, and expressed his confidence that Hokkaido University could commit to realizing a net zero-carbon society by the year 2050.

Professor Seiichi Matsuo, President of Nagoya University, stressed the role of universities to gather knowledge on a global scale, and work with various sectors and stakeholders to take on the challenge of building a zero-carbon society. He appealed for collaboration with partner universities around the world to form a united front to address the challenges facing humankind.

Professor Julio Lumbreras, Vice President of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, believed that the carbon neutral strategies and principles on university campuses could be closely synchronised with cities to implement carbon neutrality in order to realise urban transformation.

Professor Kevin Hall, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Victoria, indicated that universities had a huge role to play in informing and working with governments, communities, non-government organizations and industries. He mentioned the importance of youth in driving new climate sustainability and action plans with bold and new initiatives.

Professor Jon Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland, emphasized that campuses needed to diversify the student population and it was of great value to implement interdisciplinary training, teaching and research. He also pointed out that as an island, Iceland needed to have stronger collaborators.


Participation from:

Politecnico di Torino, Rector Guido Saracco;

The University of Sheffield, President and Vice-Chancellor Koen Lamberts;

Technical University Berlin, President Christian Thomsen;

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, President Rocky S Tuan;

Newcastle University, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies;

Yokohama National University, President Izuru Umehara;

Technical University of Darmstadt, Vice President Jens Schneider;

Simon Fraser University, President and Vice-Chancellor Joy Johnson.

Rector of the Politecnico di Torino, Guido Saracco: “Politecnico di Torino is trying to reach it [carbon neutrality] by 2040 and we are achieving this by recycling, and education and public awareness and inclusion and equity.”

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, Koen Lamberts: “The University of Sheffield published its sustainability strategy last year, its strategy is holistic; it looks at environmental issues, but also at social and economic factors, which are equally relevant in forming solutions…We have the commitment to become a carbon neutral campus by 2038.”

President of Technical University Berlin, Christian Thomsen: “We rely on strong partners, not only from the research region, or the national framework, but have also decided on international cooperation. Here, dear colleagues, I see this is as all part of a worldwide movement that is called upon to make a huge joint effort.”

President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor Rocky S Tuan: “When it comes to success, it’s all about people, people, people. At the end of the day, if we want to achieve anything, particularly with the SDGs, we have to work on people first”.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, Richard Davies: “But we need data, data, data as well, so we can make trusted decisions informed by reliable data so that we can accurately say what the contributions are going to be from student mobility, from students coming into the country and from staff travel as well.”

President of Yokohama University, Professor Izuru Umehara: “At Yokohama University, we will continue working to further develop the science and technology of chemical energy, including the efficient conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy and vice versa, and efficient transport of energy carriers. By doing so, we hope to contribute to the efforts to make efficient use of chemical energy and build a low carbon society.”

Vice President of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Jens Schneider: “What is more important from my view is that research and transfer has to be exchanged also between the universities, that’s why I’m very grateful that you also invited us today.”

President and Vice-chancellor of Simon Fraser University, Professor Joy Johnson: “Our most recent carbon neutrality action report recorded a decrease in overall greenhouse gas emissions of 24% from a baseline in 2007. And we just introduced a new biomass plant at the University and we are anticipating having a further reduction of 50% emissions by 2025.”

In his concluding remarks, Professor Li Zheng, the Executive Vice President of the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development of Tsinghua University, and the Secretary-General of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, stated: “Climate change is a common crisis and longstanding challenge faced by humanity, requiring everyone around the world to unite, learn together, and place all efforts to create a climate-focused governance.”

GFUP 2021 is convened between April 19 and 24. The sessions of GFUP 2021 are designed to explore themes including: University as a Cultural Space; Looking Back into the Future (April 19); Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action (April 21); Rethinking the Future and New Mission of Online Education (April 22); and Global University Leadership (April 23). This session, “Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action”, is led by the Tsinghua University Office of International Affairs, and organized by the Secretariat of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate.

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