On 20 November 2023, the University Climate Council sub­mit­ted a blue­print to the uni­ver­si­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on, pro­po­sing a total of 42 mea­su­res to impro­ve Halle University’s bio­di­ver­si­ty and cli­ma­te-friend­li­ness. Now what is the cli­ma­te plan sup­po­sed to achie­ve and will the plan­ned mea­su­res even be sufficient?

In the pro­ject “Sustainable Transformation Paths to Climate Neutrality with Planning Cells and Real-World Labs” (in short, KlimaPlanReal) Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg, Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal, Hochschule Anhalt, Hochschule Harz, and Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg coope­ra­te to make future uni­ver­si­ty ope­ra­ti­ons cli­ma­te-neu­tral and to dis­co­ver new ways to bet­ter incor­po­ra­te sus­taina­bi­li­ty issu­es into rese­arch, tea­ching, and stu­dent life.

The pro­ject con­sists of four sta­ges. At first, sta­tus quo reports were drawn up, eva­lua­ting to what extent sus­taina­bi­li­ty issu­es have been inte­gra­ted in uni­ver­si­ty ope­ra­ti­ons so far. MLU’s report refers to data from the year 2021. Subsequently, mea­su­res faci­li­ta­ting cli­ma­te-neu­tral uni­ver­si­ty ope­ra­ti­ons were to be devi­sed. These pro­po­sals are now avail­ab­le as a cli­ma­te plan deve­lo­ped by the University Climate Council.

According to MLU, this cli­ma­te plan has been in some respects a reac­tion to the stu­dent acti­vist group “End Fossil — Occupy! Halle”, who had squat­ted a lec­tu­re hall in January 2023. They had deman­ded a cli­ma­te-con­scious trans­for­ma­ti­on of the uni­ver­si­ty, among other things through a more cri­ti­cal tea­ching and a more cli­ma­te-rela­ted cur­ri­cu­lum, as well as impro­ve­ments in the are­as of ener­gy, mobi­li­ty, infra­st­ruc­tu­re, and nut­ri­ti­on. However, the cli­ma­te plan had been envi­sa­ged sin­ce late 2022.

In the next step, the university’s pro­ject team will select some of the deve­lo­ped pro­po­sals and test them in so-cal­led trans­fer labo­ra­to­ries. Finally, the project’s fin­dings are to be docu­men­ted in a way that other hig­her edu­ca­ti­on insti­tu­ti­ons can fol­low this gui­de to a more cli­ma­te-friend­ly uni­ver­si­ty reorganization.

What Exactly Is the University Climate Council?

Martin Luther University’s Climate Council con­ve­ned on two days in the sum­mer of 2023. It was com­po­sed of ran­dom­ly selec­ted stu­dent app­li­cants, as well as pro­fes­sors, aca­de­mic staff and sup­por­ting staff. University employees were in the pool by default but could opt out if they were drawn. This selec­tion pro­cess was inten­ded to help make the com­mit­tee diver­se and to allow for the invol­ve­ment of the widest ran­ge of perspectives.

The coun­cil com­pri­sed 30 peop­le from the­se groups, assis­ted by experts pro­vi­ding sci­en­ti­fic input eit­her local­ly or by pho­ne. This input ser­ved as the basis for the pro­po­sals in Halle University’s cli­ma­te plan.

And What Does the Climate Plan Say?

The University Climate Council inves­ti­ga­ted three core issu­es rele­vant to the uni­ver­si­ty, dis­cus­sed expert input, and pro­po­sed solu­ti­ons. These mat­ters inclu­ded sus­taina­bi­li­ty, aspects of a rege­ne­ra­ti­ve cam­pus, and sus­tainab­le pro­cu­re­ment and nutrition.

Besides, as a result of nego­tia­ti­ons bet­ween the uni­ver­si­ty and “End Fossil: Occupy! Halle” it was sti­pu­la­ted that the topic of cli­ma­te dis­as­ter should be fur­ther inte­gra­ted in the cur­ri­cu­lum. “However, sug­ges­ti­ons from the University Climate Council to work on topics such as cli­ma­te cri­sis in tea­ching were rejec­ted by the Office for Sustainability, which was the orga­ni­ser of the coun­cil.” says Mario F., a stu­dent mem­ber of the council.

The mee­tings of the University Climate Council resul­ted in a docu­ment of almost 50 pages that pres­ents 42 mea­su­res to redu­ce green­house gas emis­si­ons on cam­pus. Suggestions inclu­de drawing up a sus­taina­bi­li­ty report for the who­le uni­ver­si­ty on a regu­lar basis from win­ter semes­ter 2025/26. Furthermore, the plan recom­mends estab­li­shing the University Climate Council as a demo­cra­ti­cal­ly elec­ted and per­ma­nent insti­tu­ti­on at MLU.

Sustainable Mobility

Within the field of mobi­li­ty, busi­ness trips were iden­ti­fied as the pri­ma­ry cate­go­ry in which emis­si­ons could be effec­tively saved. In this regard a ban on domestic flights has been pro­po­sed, or at least to tigh­ten the requi­re­ments for exemp­ti­ons and ins­tead pro­vi­de finan­cial or time-based incen­ti­ves to use more sus­tainab­le trans­port such as rail­way. Local public trans­port should be impro­ved as well. “For ade­qua­te and attrac­ti­ve pas­sen­ger trans­port by HAVAG, a varia­ble and some­ti­mes hig­her fre­quen­cy with peak sup­ply in the morning and evening as well as lon­ger trams should be used.” Furthermore, cycle paths bet­ween cam­pu­ses should be impro­ved and upgraded, for instance by remo­ving cob­ble­stones. In addi­ti­on, free bicy­cle ren­tal for stu­dents and trai­nees should be offe­red. Bicycle repair sta­ti­ons have also been dis­cus­sed. Another idea is to deve­lop a mobi­li­ty app that can deter­mi­ne rou­tes with the lowest CO₂ emis­si­ons and eva­lua­te indi­vi­du­al mobi­li­ty anony­mous­ly. This would make it pos­si­ble to con­si­der bonu­ses for peop­le who cau­se par­ti­cu­lar­ly low emis­si­ons, for examp­le by using bicy­cles or public transport.

Moreover, the University Climate Council dis­cus­sed chan­ges to the par­king poli­cy. While it should not be ban­ned, par­king should beco­me less con­ve­ni­ent and more expen­si­ve. However, it has been spe­ci­fied that this rule should not app­ly to guar­di­ans or peop­le with disa­bi­li­ties. There should also be more park and ride sites.

According to a mem­ber of the University Climate Council, the com­mu­ting flow bet­ween Leipzig and Halle could not be inclu­ded in the deve­lo­p­ment of mea­su­res due to a lack of data. Therefore, they see a need to collect the­se sta­tis­tics and to deve­lop mea­su­res aimed at redu­cing indi­vi­du­al commuting.

Regenerative Campus

The con­cept of a rege­ne­ra­ti­ve cam­pus not only addres­ses the goal of sus­taina­bi­li­ty but also implies that the cam­pus design actively con­tri­bu­tes to rege­ne­ra­ting the envi­ron­ment. This goes bey­ond just redu­cing the resour­ce con­sump­ti­on to actual­ly rever­sing it by beco­m­ing a pro­du­cer of resources.

To imple­ment this con­cept, the University Climate Council pro­po­sed instal­ling pho­to­vol­taic arrays, for examp­le on roofs and open spaces. In addi­ti­on, cam­pus are­as should be gra­du­al­ly unsea­led and gree­n­ed up with regio­nal plants pro­mo­ting bio­di­ver­si­ty. For instance, the num­ber of par­king spaces can be redu­ced in favour of plan­ting. “Long term goals inclu­de more (nati­ve) plants and insects, bet­ter water infil­tra­ti­on and thus the pre­ser­va­ti­on of ground­wa­ter, as well as redu­cing the ambi­ent tem­pe­ra­tu­re in the city.” Greening of roofs and faca­des is laid down in the cli­ma­te plan, too. In ano­t­her idea, stu­dents and staff could crea­te and cul­ti­va­te com­mu­nal beds to con­tri­bu­te to a cli­ma­te-friend­ly sup­ply in the canteens.

Waste sepa­ra­ti­on is also an important con­cern for the University Climate Council, which is to be imple­men­ted pri­ma­ri­ly wit­hin the uni­ver­si­ty buil­dings. This is a low-thres­hold mea­su­re that can be put into prac­ti­ce quickly.

Sustainable Procurement and Nutrition

Essentially, the University Climate Council con­si­ders a com­pre­hen­si­ve digi­ta­li­sa­ti­on of the uni­ver­si­ty as a pivo­tal basis. Moreover, the idea of an exchan­ge and bor­ro­wing ser­vice for elec­tro­nic devices wit­hin the uni­ver­si­ty met with much appro­val. In addi­ti­on, the cur­rent equip­ment should be che­cked for its car­bon foot­print and in case of new acqui­si­ti­ons atten­ti­on should be paid to the most sus­tainab­le opti­ons pos­si­ble. Available meals in the can­te­ens and cafe­te­ri­as offer ano­t­her gre­at poten­ti­al for a more sus­tainab­le approach. However, the cli­ma­te plan points out that the Studentenwerk would be in char­ge for this, not the uni­ver­si­ty. At any rate, a poten­ti­al mea­su­re could be to „indi­vi­du­al­ly cal­cu­la­te the cli­ma­te foot­print for each can­te­en dish (inclu­ding snacks in the cafés) and to pri­ce them accord­in­gly. The more harm­ful to the cli­ma­te a dish has been clas­si­fied, the more expen­si­ve it will be; the more sus­tainab­le it is, the more afford­a­ble it gets.“ Moreover, pri­ces should be kept fair, and a dis­count offer for appren­ti­ces should be made avail­ab­le. Other mea­su­res dis­cus­sed inclu­ded meat-free days as well as a gua­ran­te­ed vegan offer in every canteen.

Will this Plan Make MLU Climate-Neutral?

This ques­ti­on can’t be ans­we­red yet. While the cli­ma­te plan offers many ide­as to make uni­ver­si­ty ope­ra­ti­ons more sus­tainab­le and cli­ma­te-friend­ly, the­re are no num­bers or pro­jec­tions on whe­ther imple­men­ting the­se mea­su­res would reach cli­ma­te neu­tra­li­ty, or even posi­ti­vi­ty. Besides, the University Climate Council’s pro­po­sals are mere sug­ges­ti­ons without any bin­ding cha­rac­ter. It is the­re­fo­re unclear how many of the pre­sen­ted mea­su­res will come to fruition.

Furthermore, the who­le pro­ject fails to sei­ze the chan­ce to make all of Saxony-Anhalt’s aca­de­mic land­s­cape more cli­ma­te friend­ly. What is mis­sing are for examp­le coope­ra­ti­ons with the clo­se-by art school Burg Giebichenstein or Hochschule Merseburg that could have ope­ned the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a fas­ter and wider imple­men­ta­ti­on of cli­ma­te-friend­ly mea­su­res at more uni­ver­si­ties. With the cur­rent pro­ject struc­tu­re, it is only after the pro­po­sed mea­su­res were tried out that the left-out col­le­ges will have access to the results and be able to app­ly the fin­dings to their own struc­tures. This will slow down impro­ving the cli­ma­te foot­print of Saxony-Anhalt’s universities.

As a mem­ber of the University Climate Council, Mario F. con­si­ders the cli­ma­te plan as it has been pre­sen­ted to be ambi­tious but uto­pian. „Above all it shows the limits of what indi­vi­du­al insti­tu­ti­ons can achie­ve and whe­re a socie­ty as a who­le must chan­ge direc­tion. But then they’ll need to pro­vi­de suf­fi­ci­ent resour­ces for the task, too. The way it is here, it loo­ks like yet ano­t­her ali­bi pro­ject. This is not least reflec­ted in how the sus­taina­bi­li­ty office has been fun­ded and staf­fed, which had no lon­ger a head by the time the cli­ma­te plan was han­ded over becau­se they had fai­led to extend the posi­ti­on in time.“

In a state­ment, Students for Future Halle have cri­ti­cis­ed the situa­ti­on in the sus­taina­bi­li­ty office, too: „Without human exper­ti­se the goals are hard to coor­di­na­te and to imple­ment. So far, the Rector’s Office has not been wil­ling to respond to our deman­ds. Originally we had cal­led for five posi­ti­ons in the office.“ Moreover, they view the lack of avail­ab­le data nega­tively as this meant that important mea­su­res — such as con­cer­ning busi­ness flight trips — could not be developed.

„So, all in all the uni is cer­tain­ly not going to beco­me cli­ma­te-neu­tral by 2030, which has been a unani­mous decisi­on by the Senate. It takes a lot more for that. Of cour­se, neit­her the cli­ma­te plan nor the Rector’s Office are sole­ly respon­si­ble. But they do not live up to their big share of respon­si­bi­li­ty eit­her. At the end of the day, they all point fin­gers at others and use this as an impli­cit excu­se for their own ina­de­qua­te actions“, says a spo­kes­man of the group.

Further Reading:

Text and photos/montage: Henriette Schwabe

Translation: Konrad Dieterich

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