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The One Degree No Student Wants

10/11/2015 16:29 GMT | Updated 10/11/2016 10:12 GMT

2015 will be a year which goes down in history as a monument to human inaction. We've let average temperatures hit 1C above pre-industrial levels - pushing us halfway to climate breakdown. This is the one degree no student wants. And nobody can afford a second one.

World leaders and climate scientists agree that 2C average warming is the absolute limit of climate change we could just about handle. As of September this year, we're halfway there, and there's no real sign of slowing down. It's never been more important that our education system produces solutions to our social, economic and environmental crises. But we're not taking action.

Students in the UK get that this is today's most pressing social justice issue. Every year, they get clearer and louder in their demand for sustainability. It's what they want from their time in education. But our universities and colleges are failing them badly - getting weaker on the agenda all the time.

This week, NUS revealed that 2/5 of universities are on course to miss their own carbon targets. Staff are telling us that budgets are being slashed. Nobody has a shared vision of what education for sustainability looks like. It's not a sector that's going to shape a future students want to see.

And with this news of 1C warming from the Met Office, the reality of climate breakdown has never felt closer. It's been too easy to believe that the effects of rising temperatures were for future generations to think about. But this couldn't be more wrong. A few days ago, the World Bank told us that 100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty due to climate change by 2030.

Just to repeat - that's 2030. Only fifteen years away. That's not hitting future generations. That's hitting us. And we're not talking about relatively minor human impacts like damaged ecosystems or slightly shorter growing seasons. We're talking about extreme poverty for colossal numbers - 100 million people.

Not only that, but these 100 million people will be those who have had the least to do with driving the crisis - mainly black women and children, and mainly in the global south. With the UK's education system shaping one in ten of world leaders, we have a duty to think about the global impact of our universities and colleges.

We need vice chancellors and principals to take action on this decline in getting sustainability at the heart of our education system. And it's up to students to make them do this, especially as we gear up for #COP21 later this month - trying to reach a global agreement of keeping below 2C warming.

Now we've hit 1C warming, it's never been more urgent to reform our education system. When we talk about a degree, we usually mean something which takes you further in life, opens up opportunities, and contributes to the public good. This degree couldn't be more different, and the fees will be measured in lives rather than pounds.