Passioned appeals from scientists to address the risks of climate change, biodiversity loss and the exceedance of planetary boundaries affecting sustainability are not a new phenomenon. Peer-reviewed reports (subscribed to by most reputed experts) showing the aggravation of these problems are published time and again in the face of a general inertia and lack of action in response to the challenges. However, what is new, is the movement emerging worldwide from within a new generation, to put pressure on decision-makers to act ambitiously and without delay in defence of a liveable planet for future generations to come. Universities, as institutions at the forefront of education, research and innovation at the service of society must show leadership and commitment in this matter. They must be the first to offer positive replies to the new generations to whom they are dedicated. As institutions supplying the scientific evidence of the ecological risks, Universities must be ahead in addressing the challenges that we face and to lead in the necessary transition towards sustainable societies. We, rectors, professors, researchers, students and staff of Norwegian Universities, call for an ambitious change in the way our institutions work, and we propose to act together along the following lines:
- EDUCATION: climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainability, in general, is impactful and requires action from all professional areas, not only in the areas of science but in those of business, administration, policy, citizens groups, households and the general public. Universities must contribute to the formation of the future scientists, engineers, architects, lawyers, medical doctors, social scientists, economists and entrepreneurs who will have to be very well informed of the drivers of the sustainability problems and the possible solutions. They must be the leaders in the transition. For this to happen, a thorough revision of university curricula and of lifelong education programmes is urgently required, in particular, to allow them to address the system dimension of problems through a broader interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary wealth of knowledge.
- RESEARCH and INNOVATION: responding to the planetary challenges requires an unprecedented effort of research and innovation for new technological and non-technological solutions. They are possible, and human ingenuity must shine a light also from the world-view dimension on how to ensure a good life for future generations in a liveable planet. Universities should integrate sustainability into all of their research and innovation activities while encouraging substantial collaborations between natural scientists, medical doctors, technologists and social and humanities scientists, placing value in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation, including in scientific publications and career development.
- SHOWCASING SOLUTIONS: Universities must become “laboratories of possibilities”, showcasing solutions through ambitious incorporation of sustainability and low- and zero-carbon principles, including within its management. For example, setting very ambitious targets for the reduction of its own greenhouse gas emissions via sustainable and green procurement, zero and plus energy buildings, environmental and social clauses in service contracts, mobility policy of staff, spinning-off sustainability companies, etc. This initiative will network with others in different countries, those already launched and those yet to be launched, with the global ambition of putting Universities worldwide at the forefront of the sustainability transition.