Students rank Swedish universities’ climate actions

On Global Day of Climate Action, the organization Klimatstudenterna Sverige launched its ranking of Swedish universities and colleges’ climate work – Climate Action Ranking. No university earned full points, but Borås University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Chalmers University of Technology were ranked the highest.

In November 2018, students from Uppsala, Gothenburg and Stockholm (several of them from SDSN Northern Europe member universities) formed the movement and association Climate Students Sweden – Klimatstudenterna Sverige. With this new ranking, they demand climate action from the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The three students who completed the project were Felicia Olsson and Leonie Tidlund from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Kalle Florén from Blekinge Institute of Technology.

– Two things that motivate HEIs are application numbers and prestigious rankings. With this ranking we want to communicate to future students which HEIs actually practice what they teach. By this, we hope that universities will prioritise climate action in addition to high quality education, says Felicia Olsson.

The students sent out an offer to participate to all Swedish universities and received 16 responses. It is these universities that are included in the ranking.

– Regardless of where they ended up in the ranking, these 16 HEIs should have credit for prioritizing participation, continues Felicia.

Graphic of the university climate action ranking.

The HEIs were scored in four areas. The first is connected to the sharpest targets for emission reductions with associated action plans. The second scores the most accurate measurement of total greenhouse gas emissions. The third and fourth areas are about air travel, the lowest emissions from air travel per annual labor force, and the largest reduction in emissions from air travel per annual labor force between 2018 and 2019.

– From the beginning, our plan was to simply rank the universities according to their total greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of reductions. But after understanding that the higher education institutions currently do not even know how large emissions they have, we chose to add more categories, and to focus on emissions from air travel – the statistics that are most comparable between the higher education institutions, says Leonie Tidlund.

The Climate Students argue that higher education institutions have a unique symbolic and practical role to play in realising the climate transition of society.

– By practicing what they teach and acting on their own climate research, they can show the way for other parts of society. If not even our universities take the message of science seriously and act upon it, who in society can be expected to do so?, says Felicia.

In the ranking, the universities’ different strengths and weaknesses in climate work become clear. Some higher education institutions report relatively low emissions, but lack e.g. accurate measurement methods or have low or no ambitions for emission reductions. Others, such as KTH, has very ambitious goals and sharp action plans, but still very high emissions and small reductions.

– Some HEIs have already had time to develop new goals and action plans after signing on to the Climate Framework, while others are still in the middle of that work. It will be exciting to see if and how the ranking is reversed in next year’s ranking, says Kalle Florén.

Borås University ended up at the top of the ranking list, by a good margin. We have talked to their Sustainability Strategist Birgitta Losman. What does she think is behind the fact that they ended up at the top?

– Borås University was early in setting tough climate goals and joining “Climate 2030 – Västra Götaland ställer om”. We try to both work strategically and, at the same time, take small concrete steps in the right direction in everyday life at our university. I think that the combination of a clear leadership from the Vice Chancellor and many committed people in the staff has been an important success factor for our work with climate issues. Our strong collaborative work together with the business community also makes a strong contribution to climate work at the university, says Birgitta.

With its ranking, the Climate Students now asks the question: Which higher education institutions will in the future attract students from the Greta Thunberg generation?

Read the full report where the methodology behind the ranking is described.

Read more about the Climate Action Ranking 2020.

SDSN Northern Europe are looking forward to seeing the results from next year’s climate action ranking. Several of our ongoing solutions initiatives have climate action at its core: Climate Framework for Higher Education Institutions, Mistra Carbon Exit, and Glocal Leadership for Climate Action.


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