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URBANA — More than 200 higher-education institutions around the world, including the University of Illinois System, are declaring a “climate emergency” ahead of a major U.N. meeting on climate change next week in Madrid.

The “SDG Accord” is an effort by colleges, universities and higher-education organizations to support global sustainable development goals and urge action to avert climate change.

It calls on governments and other higher-education institutions to declare a climate emergency and “back this up with actions that will help create a better future for both people and our planet.”

The signatories, including UI System President Tim Killeen, committed to a three-point plan that includes:

— Mobilizing more resources for “action-oriented climate change research” and skills.

— Going “carbon neutral” by 2030 or 2050 at the latest, meaning any carbon emissions are offset by reductions elsewhere.

— Expanding environmental and sustainability education across their campuses and through community outreach programs.

The letter says a “drastic society shift” is needed to combat the growing threat of climate change.

“The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change. We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all,” the letter says.

The Climate Action Plan for the UI’s Urbana campus, which will be updated in 2020, already is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.

Leaders of dozens of universities around the world have signed the climate-emergency declaration, from Germany, the U.K., Canada, Mexico, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Uganda, Venezuela, Costa Rica and others.

Monday marks the start of the 25th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is charged with making sure that the convention, and the 2015 Paris Agreement, are being implemented.

U.N. officials cite recent reports showing that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another record high, meaning that future generations will confront increasingly severe climate-change effects such as rising temperatures, extreme weather and rising sea levels.

The U.N. Environment Programme warns that reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions of 7.6 percent a year from 2020 to 2030 are needed to meet the internationally agreed goal of a 1.5-degree increase in average global temperatures over pre-industrial levels. Scientists agree that will be difficult and the window of opportunity is growing smaller.

More than 70 nations have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, though not countries that emit the most greenhouse gases, including the United States.

This is the final conference before many nations must submit new climate action plans in 2020.

“This year’s conference is important towards getting the countries on track for their current promises and to also further strengthen their reductions in emissions,” said climate expert Donald Wuebbles, UI professor of atmospheric sciences. He has led studies assessing the potential impact of climate change on urban areas, agriculture and water resources and was a lead author on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

“The United States needs to be part of this but isn’t,” he said.

The world is still increasing carbon emissions, not reducing them, Wuebbles noted.

While there are signs of positive change — such as the growing use of solar and other alternative energy sources for transportation and power needs — “we are doing so very slowly,” he said.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).