Picture: Hundreds of students and staff protested in Alexandra Square during the Global Climate Strike in September, demanding the University declare a Climate Emergency.

Like a scene in a tragicomedy about the effects of managerialism on higher education, Lancaster University has announced its response to the Climate Emergency – nothing more, nothing less than a “Big Conversation”.

There were no commitments to actually recognise that there is a Climate Emergency. No commitments to decarbonise by 2030. No commitments to stop bankrolling the fossil fuel industry. Instead, nothing but an exercise in performative consultation, entrenching the University’s strategy of dither and delay as the world quite literally burns around us.

The environmental agenda was forced onto University management’s radar last term by over 2,000 signatories of a petition spearheaded by LEC academics, and over 1,000 students voting in the LUSU AGM, demanding the University declares a Climate Emergency.

After the petition organisers met with University managers (including the interim vice-chancellor himself) at the end of 2019, the new year saw a 'Statement of Intent' from the University. The statement outlines Lancaster's pre-existing plans to meet its legal requirement to decarbonise by 2050, which include potentially building a second wind turbine, and a solar farm. But naturally these plans will only go ahead if they are accompanied by 'feasible and viable business cases'. As far as Lancaster University management is concerned, stopping the destruction of humanity must not come at a cost to profit.

Over the next three months, the University will 'establish if we can produce a credible plan' to decarbonise by 2030. Only then will a decision be made on if a Climate Emergency is declared, and more ambitious decarbonisation strategies adopted.

The only solid (and we're really pushing the definition of 'solid' here) new commitment the University made in its statement is:

... a “Big Conversation” early February 2020, underpinned by a sustained communications plan that will engage with staff and students.

Unfortunately, this 'sustained communications plan' appears to have yet to kick in, with the University refusing to put a spokesperson up for a BBC Radio Lancashire interview to defend their refusal to declare a Climate Emergency.

Spineless waits with bated breath to hear the details of the "Big Conversation", which will undoubtedly be an historic event in the neo-liberalisation of higher education management. We can only hope that the University's budget will be able to handle the massive increase of expenditure on flip-chart paper and whiteboard markers the "Big Conversation" and subsequent "engagement" will likely require.

October's LUSU Climate Emergency motion also mandated LUSU's representatives on University Council to demand to management that they divest from fossil fuels (as well as the arms and tobacco industries), and refuse future research funding from the fossil fuel industry. Since 2014, the University has recieved over £190,000 in research funding from Shell alone, as part of its multi-million pound 'greenwashing' project.

Spineless has previously reported on the University's delays in publishing the minutes of its meetings, so we have no idea how management responded to these student demands. But given that their January statement made no reference to the calls for divestment, we can only assume that they were dismissed as quickly as they have been in previous years.