NUI Galway’s Community and University Sustainability Partnership (CUSP) is a multi-disciplinary, voluntary team of over 30 students and staff from across the campus and community, with the common aim of establishing the university as a leading institutional model for sustainability.
CUSP has been at the heart of a vital pillar of the university’s strategy – a commitment to sustainability as one of four underpinning values for everything that the university does (alongside respect, openness and excellence).
Our student community has been the driver of this high-level commitment to sustainability. It is their generation that faces the consequences of climate change and loss of biodiversity. They rightly demand that we leave the world a better place than we find it.
With growing optimism that the end of Covid is in sight, we pose the question ‘what are the consequences for sustainability?’ Will a Covid-induced recession reduce investment in sustainability – or is it possible that the pandemic will lead to accelerated change for the better?
We in Ireland are not alone in noting a willingness to ‘do things differently’ post-Covid. But will we see a meaningful shift in policies and practices? Or is the post-Covid horizon a mirage?
The good news is that Covid-19 has proven that change can be both rapid and radical. In the face of a crisis that erupted in March, global economic orthodoxy had been jettisoned by April. Apparently sclerotic organisations in both the public and private sectors sent most of their people home – and then carried on doing business as well as ever.
More good news comes from the history of pandemics. We know that pandemics of the past have brought about significant social, cultural and scientific advances. Plague breeds all manner of innovation.
If the global economic tanker can be turned around in a trice, surely we can engineer a coordinated recovery that is driven by environmental sustainability measures such as climate action and protection of biodiversity. If we have learned anything from the crisis it is that we live in an interdependent world where nature, society and the economy must serve each other, rather than compete with each other.
Even more good news comes from the fact that government policy and a legislative framework are in place. In October this year, the Government published the Climate Action Bill, which commits Ireland to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 7% per annum for the next ten years.
In the words of Sharon Finegan, Principal Officer of the Climate Action Unit at the Department of the Taoiseach, “these are really significant targets and milestones showing that there is a plan from Government, and it is being implemented with over 200 actions, broken down into 600 measures.”
Sharon was speaking to Cois Coiribe about NUI Galway’s sustainability focus. She makes the point that there are “huge opportunities for Galway to provide testbeds for innovation, supporting the national economic strategy and future jobs by developing Ireland’s capacity as a leader in research and innovation in this space.”
Sharon Finegan is right. Here we look at just three outstanding sustainability initiatives from NUI Galway.