All eyes on climate change

The sense of urgency within the TU/e community is growing following the most recent University Rebellion protest and the publication of the IPCC report

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All eyes on climate change

The final part of the IPCC report was presented yesterday. TU/e professor Heleen de Coninck is one of the contributors to the UN climate report. In the meantime, the number of climate activists demanding accelerated climate action is increasing.

photo Loredana Sangiuliano / Shutterstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, published a report yesterday on the progress that has been made with regard to emissions reduction. This final part of the IPCC report, which was drafted by hundreds of scientists, outlines the choices the world has left to put a halt to the problem of climate change, or to at least limit the consequences, in particular by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are plenty of ways to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (the temperature increase that was agreed upon in the previous report), but efforts to do so need to be implemented immediately and on a large scale. If we fail to act now, we will forever lose sight of that 1.5 temperature target, the report says.

The UN’s IPCC report is published every seven years. The first report dealt with the causes of climate change. The subsequent report was dedicated to the consequences and effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme weather. The most recent IPCC is of particular importance to the climate summit that will take place in Egypt later this year. The report has much authority and many governments commit to it prior to publication, so that they can’t deny any of the report’s findings afterwards.

TU/e professor of Socio-Technical Innovation and Climate Change Heleen de Coninck is one   of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report. Unfortunately, she was too busy at the moment to comprehensively answer Cursor’s questions about the report and says that she will answer questions during the lunchtalk she will give on the IPCC report tomorrow, Wednesday April 6, in the Blauwe Zaal. The meeting can also be attended online and Cursor will be present to report on it.

Climate protest

It’s clear that the ‘climate change’ topic is on many people’s mind. Some time ago, Cursor published a background story on whether universities adequately address this topic in their education, and University Rebellion organizes regular protests to bring climate change to people’s attention. On March 15, members of University Rebellion were confronted with massive police actions at a protest in the Auditorium at the Career Expo, which led to the arrest of three students. Last Thursday, March 31, the Executive Board met with University Rebellion to discuss the university’s sustainability program and the protest of March 15, about which you can read more later in the article.

Action group University Rebellion seems to be backed by different organizations within the TU/e community. GO Green Office, for example, voiced its support for the group after the arrests on March 15, and TGD and EHL also went out on a limb last week when they placed statements of support on their homepages. But a new movement seems to be emerging: Scientist Rebellion. Unlike University Rebellion, which consists of students and staff members, Scientist Rebellion is a group that consists of members of the scientific staff. This group focuses more on politics than directly on the institutions, although certain protesters have made it clear that they intend to focus on universities as well.

University Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion have similar goals: addressing the problem of climate change. Leo van Kampenhout, postdoc at Utrecht University and spokesperson for Scientist Rebellion, tells Cursor that several activities have been planned for the group’s week of action, which will start in The Hague on April 6. The action group was formed last year and has gained serious momentum now with more than a thousand members worldwide, Van Kampenhout says. It’s not entirely clear at this point whether there are any SR activist working at TU/e at this point. Heleen de Coninck acknowledges that protest groups play an important role in transitions. She refers to an article she wrote on climate activism for The Economist.

Meeting with the Executive Board

On Thursday the 31st of March, University Rebellion met with TU/e’s vice-president Nicole Ummelen and Sustainability Advisor Anna Wieczorek. Industrial Design student Elena Dagg and Chemical Engineering student Isabela Anglin were among those who attended the meeting on behalf of University Rebellion. “We had a good and serious discussion,” Anglin says. Vice-president Ummelen describes the atmosphere as “calm, polite and pleasant.”

The students didn’t have enough time and were unable to discuss all the items on the agenda. Anglin: “We talked about the protest at the Career Expo and about TU/e’s ties with fossil fuel companies. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to talk about the sustainability program and our demand that the university declare a state of climate emergency.”

Dagg says that she told Ummelen that University Rebellion would like the Executive Board to release a comment and/or statement on the arrest of three students during the protest. “She didn’t want to give such a statement because she didn’t want to draw any more attention to the incident. She did however say that she found it regrettable that things had gotten out of hand.”

Clear rules

Anglin adds: “We also wanted to know what rules exactly we were supposed to have broken, because those rules were constantly referred to. But the vice-president couldn’t answer our question, unfortunately. She did however agree that clear rules are important, so that everyone knows what is and what isn’t allowed with regard to protests. We recommended that the university should outline clear rules. Ummelen promised to get back on that at a later stage.”

Clear rules on what you can and can’t do during protests aren’t important just to University Rebellion, Anglin says. “This concerns every student and staff member who wants to protest, for whatever reason.” The lack of clear rules makes the activists of University Rebellion feel uncomfortable. “I’ve become afraid to protest. I don’t know anymore what I’m allowed to do and what not, because there are no clear rules. And I’m afraid that people might get arrested again.” Dagg says.

Ummelen takes a different view when it comes to the rules during a protest. Ummelen: “University Rebellion said that the right to protest is very important to them – and the Executive Board agrees – and that they didn’t know or understand what formal rules they had broken, and that they wanted clarity on that, not just for themselves but also for students who aren’t affiliated with UR. I told them that transparency is important, and that our manager Safety & Security, Gijs Spiele, is willing to clarify the rules if they want, and that it won’t be a problem to make the rules clearer when necessary. They appreciated that. As far as a statement is concerned, I told them that the Executive Board has said before that it generally speaking isn’t in favor of making statements, but that we do want to listen, learn and act, and that we should be judged on that, naturally. This meeting was part of that.”

Financial flows

Dagg: “Communication with regard to the protest wasn’t very clear. The strange thing is that there are different stories circulating about who called the police on March 15. The Executive Board says that it doesn’t know who called the police, and that it didn’t know that the police would show up. Also, it was said in the media that we were allowed to continue with our protest outside and that we supposedly declined. But when we stood outside the Auditorium, we were forced to leave and to no longer visibly carry our signs and banners.”

Apart from the protest, the students brought up the university’s ties with companies from the fossil fuel sector during their meeting with the Executive Board. The students ask for transparency on the university’s partnerships, on how much money these companies pay TU/e, and on the criteria for partnerships. These questions weren’t answered, so far. “Nicole Ummelen first offered us to show us a list of companies, but eventually decided not to do so after all,” Anglin says. “This is important information to us, because companies that pay a lot of money also have a greater chance to influence research and education. We hope to discuss this matter further with Ummelen in the future.”

The vice-president definitely welcomes further meetings with the action group. “We talked about partnerships between TU/e and external companies and organizations, with industry. We have a lot of those, obviously. I mostly wanted to know what question lay behind their question to have a list. What is this really about? What followed was an initial discussion about whether contacts with industry influence the content of our education and on our students ‘ability to think for themselves We talked about the ways in which that discussion could be held, and I agreed to think about that some more.”

TU/e policy

When asked whether TU/e should be more ambitious when it comes to climate, De Coninck tells Cursor: “Since it isn’t specifically mentioned in the university’s strategy, which is currently being updated, I do believe that stringent goals – in line with the 1.5 temperate increase and other sustainable development goals – and appropriate policy are important. That could very well have a disruptive effect. For example, the ambition to recruit more female scientists also forced the university to take some drastic measures. You have to do that if you take your goals seriously, and if it’s a problem that won’t solve itself.”

Sustainability Ambassador Anna Wieczorek was also asked for a response for this article, but she said that she unfortunately didn’t have time at this point to answer Cursor’s questions.

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