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SOAS hosts Student-Staff Climate Assembly

By Anna Fenton-Jones, BA Middle Eastern Studies

A cross-SOAS panel agrees that all groups must work together to accelerate change within the university in the face of the climate crisis.

Representatives from SOAS SU, the University and College Union (UCU), UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), and Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) came together on October 13th for the Student-Staff Assembly on the Climate Crisis. The event was an opportunity for all groups to share their news of ongoing activism and plan for joint future action. This is the first time the assembly has met since the university announced it was supporting the declaration of a climate crisis in September. It promises to use the newly created Climate Action Group (CAG) to oversee the implementation of policy changes and initiatives.

The panel focused on the inequalities created by the climate crisis, recognising that newly industrialised nations suffer disproportionately from increasing numbers of extreme climate events despite contributing less to global emissions than the rest of the world.  Representing the UCU, Feyzi Ismail reiterated that ‘those who suffer most from the effects of climate change have contributed [to it] the least,’ and all climate activism should operate in solidarity with ‘anti-war and anti-austerity activists.’ The panel agreed that working to end the ‘colonialist legacy of climate change’ should be at the forefront of climate activism.

‘A time of resistance and rebellion’: unions look towards the election to unite against the climate crisis.

Audience members took to the floor to express their concerns with the dominating influence of Extinction Rebellion within the climate movement. Complaints were made by some audience members about the group’s presence during Black History month events, where many felt their occupation of the space prevented Black voices from being heard.

The need to support the most vulnerable in the UK against the effects of a changing climate was raised unanimously. Suzanne Jeffery, of the CACC, said that the purpose of the campaign over the last 10 years was to ‘dispel the belief that the choice we face is between the environment and jobs,’ highlighting the One Million Climate Jobs report published by the campaign. Now in its Third Edition, the report argues that the public overhaul of current infrastructure will create one million ‘climate jobs’.  

Labour unveiled its election manifesto on 21 November. As part of their Green New Deal, ‘A Green Industrial Revolution’ outlines how the party plans to create one million new jobs by transforming ‘industry, energy, transport, agriculture, and our buildings.’

Speaking on the election, Jeffery described the coming weeks as a ‘time of resistance and rebellion.’ The panel stressed the importance of uniting to support those who would implement radical green policies, saying that this was ‘the most important election in recent history.’  

Sandy Nicoll, the SOAS Unison Branch Secretary, said that November’s UCU and UNISON strike was purposely timed to coincide with the Global Climate Strike on 29 November. The university decided not to support the strike.

In May, the Students’ Union passed a motion declaring a climate emergency ‘which acknowledges and apologises for the complicity of academic institutions like SOAS in creating the conditions for it.’ Jack Di Francesco, the SOAS SU officer for Sustainability, expressed his hope that the newly formed CAG would take this sentiment seriously and begin implementing university wide change in dialogue with the SU. Speaking to the SOAS Spirit, CAG Chair Tom Tanner said, ‘the strength of turning ideas into action here is really impressive across both students and staff.’ He praised ‘recent decisions to ban domestic flights and plastic water bottles, use Skype for interviews, and create a meat-free campus as part of wider work towards making SOAS climate neutral’ and promised to ‘work harder to integrate climate and sustainability issues into curricula and training.’

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