The Discussion (Part 2): COVID19 and climate emergency workshop in the University of Essex

By Asitha Jayawardena

Part 2 of the discussion of the Workshop on COVID-19 and climate emergency of the University of Essex.

Part 1 of the discussion of the workshop on COVID19 and climate emergency in the University of Essex was published and this is Part 2.

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow from 31 October to 13 November 2021. Called COP26, it was hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy. 

Three weeks before COP26, on 7 October 2021, the Centre for Environment and Society (CES) of the University of Essex held an online workshop, titled “Challenges and opportunities of COVID19 on climate emergency initiatives: from the perspective of the net-Zero-carbon emissions policy”.

There were three guest speakers from three countries. Professor Jim Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at the University of West England, Bristol (from England); Jane Davidson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (from Wales); and Mr Olumide Idowu, Co-Founder/CEO of the International Climate Change Development Initiative (ICCDI) Africa (from Nigeria).

Moderated by Dr Jane Hindley, the University of Essex, the full programme ran for 2 hours.

On 5 November 2021, an article titled “Higher education, politics and industry – Challenges and opportunities of COVID19 on climate emergency initiatives” appeared on Sustain blog, presenting the three presentations of the three speakers.

Higher education, politics and industry – Challenges and opportunities of COVID19 on climate emergency initiatives

On 19 January 2022, part 1 of the discussion appeared:

The Discussion (Part 1): COVID19 and climate emergency workshop in the University of Essex

This is part 2 of the discussion.

Fossil fuels and Nigerian policymakers

The Nigerian elite has been ready to use fossil fuels in the development path. If you as civil society organisations are managing to challenge that kind of fossil-fuel mentality, is that still an issue in Nigeria? The President has promised 25 million trees but is there a kind of understanding that there is a need for the whole transformation of the economy?

Mr Olumide Idowu: Fossil fuels are a big issue and for almost 33 years now, we are shouting clean up, clean up and nothing has been done.

In a developing country like Nigeria, is there a capacity and expertise on technical knowledge by moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy? So, when we are moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy, the same conversation happens, moving on with our lives.

Civil society organisations have held a lot of campaigns, talking to the government and having stakeholder meetings but the bottom line is how would see the government itself to make the change.

It is very important that is that the policies are good so that nobody is left out.

Gas flaring

What is gas flaring?

Professor Longhurst: Some years ago, I worked with the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency in conducting an emissions inventory of the Niger delta and the contribution of gas flaring to the overall emissions in that area. It is frankly horrendous.

If we think about easy actions of gas flaring, which is essentially getting rid of gas from the oil that is being extracted in the Niger delta, the gas is seen as a waste product and it simply flares. It confines fantastic pictures of gas flaring going up to a hundred metres in the air just being burnt off, the point source of carbon dioxide and all rafts of other pollutants.

It is a very easy step for all the multinational oil companies who own the assets in the Niger delta. They have gradually begun to commit to forms of net-zero, making commitments to reduce their carbon intensities to their operations. That, I see as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitments to change, which they could try in the statements. Multinational companies are responsible for a significant fraction of Nigeria’s CO2 emissions.

We would expect to see significant action on gas flaring but they will cost them, of course.

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy

For sustaining the economy in Nigeria, how the government would move the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy very quickly?

Mr Olumude: In the energy transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy, demand for transparency and accountability need to continue some sort of conversation.

I would not blame the government entirely. I would not blame the people either. The bottom line is, the willingness of our politicians and leaders is not enough. They come from the people that are suffering from gas flaring and oil spillage.

Who is responsible for gas flaring and oil spillage? Because of selfish interests, they are making more money from gas flaring and oil spillage. Voting the right people into power is the answer. We will not stop talking; we will not stop the demand for justice.

The developed countries have a role to play. They can help local communities. This funding that tackles these issues does not get where it wants to. Demand for transparency and accountability should be available in all activities.

The international crime of ecocide

What is the international crime of ecocide?

Jane Davidson: I was thinking about the international crime of ecocide here because all the work that Polly Higgins did, is now being taken over by JJ Metta of the ecocide campaign. The international judges have agreed to a greener definition.

What I am not sure about is what happens next. Now there is a definition but there is a need to be a UN agreement in terms of the adoption of ecocide.

I know it is no longer called the fifth crime against humanity. I know that it is in a sense the last remaining element in terms of action in crimes against rights.

Collaborative pressure

Can collaborative pressure be the solution?

Jane Davidson: A massive project between the UK and the US is on to cap methane. Then my question is, why are you capping it anyway since we know it is 22 times more powerful than carbon dioxide?

Now the international company working with the US and the UK is prepared to cap all methane by 2023, which is effectively a year and a half. We will see a rapid reduction and there is a big issue about where can we trap methane because of the very powerful effect of methane on climate and its short-lived nature.

In another kind of discussion, it is exactly where academics can influence policymaking because ways in which we can bring down our emissions as fast as possible, particularly when there are ways that cost the government too much or governments can see the responsibility to the agency who caused the problem in the first place.

When the UK does that, it will put pressure on the Nigerian government to do the same or whoever else it is. When those governments do something, they should put pressure on others to do it. We need that collaborative pressure to solve the climate crisis.

Lessons of collaborations with Bristol and Wales

What are the lessons with working with Bristol or Wales?

Professor Longhurst: Universities have a great role in civil society to be a convenor to bring people together in spaces, often we have a better space with a large number of people in a Covid-secure way to come together.

We can provide electronic facilities that often others don’t have, Teams and Zoom to enable those types of activities. Ultimately that will bring a sense of partnership, a sense of relationship. A lot of good things can happen.

In the case of working in Bristol, two universities are working closely with the Bristol County Council, which initiated the One City Climate Strategy. I and a colleague from the University of Bristol co-chair a group called the advisory committee of climate change, which is the technical committee supporting the implementation of the One City Climate Strategy.

Our role is to challenge the technical aspects and audit progress as an independent group. It involves a raft of other individuals from consultancies and other agencies relevant to Bristol. We have an array of expertise over and above the university.

Another one we at the University of the West of England are working closely with is South Gloucestershire Council, where our main campus is located. We began to pull together different elements of communities and students of the university that engage in various activities to support the council. We are coming up to the third year of support on that activity.

I think it is important for any university to engage with its local authority. There are lots of opportunities for projects, internships and a raft of inputs of teaching programmes as live briefs, which challenges those authorities in their day-to-day engagements in climate agenda.

Jane Davidson: University’s role in placemaking is important here. If you have a lot of campuses, we have 17 campuses (at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David), you have an enormous role of contributing in part of one piece or another in the context of placemaking.

The very active partnership between the university and other agencies is really important in terms of enshrining the university as something positive in place. Small communities near universities are decimated because most of the houses become houses of multiple occupations.

This is the way we did it in our university. We started with signed agreements between the VC and the Leader and the Chief Executive of the council. It went in a local newspaper and we published the agreements we made each other.

I was quite rude about the Vice Chancellor’s love for autonomy rather than on the wellbeing of future generations. What we have to have to see is that the university will be given the duty to have a civic mission and there is going to be legislation that enshrines that. That enshrines university’s into placemaking.

That enshrining of the civic mission will then need to be better in cosy relationships between universities and the public service sector.

Professor Kelum Jayasinghe

This is our first online workshop on zero carbon emissions and sustainability agenda. Through them, we will create interface academics, practitioners and policymakers with different kinds of topics may be carbon emission tools and what problems and challenges lie ahead. Moreover, people from developing countries like civil society activists will take part as well.

Dr Jane Hindley

This online workshop enshrines a really valuable set of presentations and the call to action. It is very easy for universities to make plans. The urgency goes into making the plan rather than the action. All three speakers highlighted the urgency in action, not just planning.


Under the guidance of Prof Kelum Jayasinghe, the Director of the Centre for Environment and Society of the University of Essex, Dr Chaminda Wijethilake organised the event with the support of Asitha Jayawardena.

The second online workshop is on Education for Sustainability, to be held in March 2022.


Wales – the world’s first ‘Fair Trade Nation’

Higher education, politics and industry – Challenges and opportunities of COVID19 on climate emergency initiatives

The Discussion (Part 1): COVID19 and climate emergency workshop in the University of Essex

Centre for Environment and Society (CES)



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