University presidents from 30 countries unite for the first time to announce action on climate change by signing the Joint Statement of Global University Leaders on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, witnessed by @UN officials.

At the first global online forum for university leaders, hosted by Zhejiang University in China, presidents from 56 universities across six continents have committed to working together to meet sustainable development goals (SDGs). The initiative includes five key aspects which all signatories have agreed to: implementing the concept of sustainable development, improving sustainable development competence, supporting scientific research in response to global challenges, working with global partners to provide innovative solutions and constructive transnational cooperation on specific issues.

Among the top 50 universities on the QS World University Rankings, 80% have developed their university-level sustainability strategy, plans or operational activities. According to Zhaohui Wu, President of Zhejiang University (ZJU), the purpose of the forum was to bring together leaders from some of the best universities to share these visions and best practices on SDGs and explore opportunities for potential cooperation in safeguarding a sustainable future.

With less than 9 years to go to meet targets and the pandemic slowing progress, the forum allowed leaders to share essential expertise on how to scale up efforts to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. The event gave academics a platform to clearly outline their action plans for human-oriented, innovation-driven and down-to-earth sustainable development.

UN officials, including Nikhil Seth, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, joined the panel of speakers including Peter Salovey, President of Yale University, Pam Fredman, President of the International Association of Universities, and Eric Labaye, President of École Polytechnique.

Speakers reinforced how universities can work together to harness the power of technology to expand access to quality education. They also discussed how they should draw on their academic ecosystem to support scientific collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines.

Universities that have signed the initiative include Peking University, Kyoto University, Korea University, National University of Singapore, Harvard University, Yale University, University of Toronto, University College London, École Polytechnique, University of Oslo, Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, the University of Sydney, Stellenbosch University and Universidade Estadual de Campinas, etc.(3)

Nikhil Seth, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, said:

“SDGs belong to each of us and everything we do impacts on the achievement, in the aggregate, to SDG achievement.”

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, said:

“The organization of the forum is timely, especially given the increasingly pivotal role of universities not only in fostering understanding and knowledge, but also in contributing to the building of knowledge-based societies and for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Pam Fredman, President of the International Association of Universities, Paris, said:

“Co-operation and cohesion among Higher Education Institutions and organisations will foster knowledge development and sharing.”

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University, said:

“Yale University has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent over the past 15 years, even though the campus square footage has increased significantly.”

Svein Stølen, Rector at the University of Oslo, said:

“More equal and mutually beneficial partnerships must be developed upon scientific principles, academic values, a shared vision and shared goals which place people and the planet at the centre.”

At the forum, ZJU launched its own sustainable action plan to enhance its engagement with the SDGs. Zhaohui Wu, President of Zhejiang University, said:

“The ‘Global ZJU for Social Good’ plan establishes five objectives and associated actions to improve our sustainability-related education, research, and practices within the ZJU community and among other stakeholders in China and beyond. We aim to advocate for responsible sustainability, educate for a sustainable future, advance scientific collaborations, partner for collective well-being and create greener campuses.”

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