University of Oslo: High engagement for the upcoming climate and environmental strategy

Praise that the strategy is on the way, but also concern for the principle of academic freedom, characterises the consultation input to a new climate and environmental strategy for the University of Oslo.

Earlier this month, there was a deadline for input to UiO’s forthcoming climate and environmental strategy. Seventeen units responded to the formal consultation, while over 40 employees, students and student organisations submitted more than 70 inputs via a form on The input has come from both scientific, administrative and technical staff, but professors have been the most active.

Consultation input from UiO´s units gathered here (Norwegian only)
Individual input gathered here (Norwegian only)
In connection with the strategy, an action plan is going to be developed. It will be completed after the strategy has been adopted by the University Board. The plan will have an annual follow-up, and will cover all of UiO´s core activities.

Read more about UiO´s forthcoming climate and environmental strategy

Lot of attention internally and externally
In addition to consultation responses and individual input, feedback has been provided by e-mail, in the debate meeting that was arranged at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library in September, and through various proposals and debates in the media.

– My hope when I became part of the rectorate in August was that we would kick-start an internal debate on making priorities that matter – amongst other related to the draft climate and environmental strategy that the working group delivered just before the summer, says Mette Halskov Hansen, Vice Rector for Climate & the Environment and Cross-Disciplinarity.

– That wish has certainly been fulfilled, and I believe it has been a decidedly positive thing. The debate has also shown that what we do at UiO is both interesting and important to people off campus. Not many Norwegian or European university strategies have made it to editorials, TV and radio in the largest national media.

Further process for the climate and environmental strategy:

The university management formulates a proposal that is discussed in the deans´ meeting and with the IDF (unions)
The University Board will discuss the matter on 7 December 2021
The university management revises the proposal based on the feedback
The proposal is discussed in the deans’ meeting and with the IDF in January 2022
The University Board adopts the strategy on 8 February 2022.
– Not everyone will be happy
In its response to the consultation, the Student Parliament is, in general, content with the draft strategy. All the other units start their feedback stating that they are pleased that the strategy is on its way, but they also have concrete criticism and suggestions for improvements. One of the topics that often arises is the proposal to establish a sustainability centre loosely based on the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

– We see great opportunities in such a sustainability initiative at Nedre Blindern at some point in the future, but it must be explored and analysed properly. That being said, I can repeat what I stated to the University Board this week: not everyone will be happy. We have received wishes and suggestions that go in different directions, and some of them are in conflict with each other, says Halskov Hansen.

– However, I am sure that we shall have a strategy that will provide a clear direction for UiO’s efforts to strengthen climate, environment and sustainability in a broader sense of the word within our core activities.

Will not control the students
With regard to the education part of the strategy proposal, a lot of the criticism has been related to the use of the term “change agents” in reference to students, to the proposal to incorporate climate and environment in all studies, and to use Exphil and Exfac in that connection.

On the wish list of several of the units are reduced barriers to give students an improved offer of study programs and real choice, as well as skills development for teachers, and incentives for interdisciplinary collaboration.

– There is little doubt that students will be presented with a larger range of interdisciplinary study programs related to climate and the environment in the future, preferably integrated into their own subject fields if possible. As such, we probably also need to facilitate skills development for teachers and more sharing of «best practice». Likewise, many have experienced barriers when establishing interdisciplinary study programs. We have to do something about that, says Halskov Hansen and continues:

– The term “change agent” has been discussed a lot. In the revised version of the strategy, we will make it clear that the legitimacy of our research and teaching lies in the professional competence we build and in openness and transparency when it comes to theory and method. We will not control how the students choose to use the competence they gain, but we will give them the tools to actively entering the green shift if they so wish.

Will not weaken academic freedom
When it comes to the research part of the strategy, much of the feedback centres on a concern for academic freedom – related to the following text in the draft strategy: «UiO should not, however, enter with deductibles in projects that are obviously not in line with sustainable development.

Halskov Hansen emphasises that academic freedom is a fundamental principle that neither UiO’s Strategy 2030 nor the climate and environmental strategy should undermine.

– The climate and environmental strategy will provide a direction for making certain priorities, but it will not force everyone towards the same type of research or research topic, or force someone to do something against their will. I think we should make management aware at all levels that one should consider climate and environmental consequences of projects where relevant, but I do not think we should go any further than that, she says.

Greenhouse gas emissions and green campus life
The draft strategy proposes a number of measures to reduce UiO’s climate footprint and create a greener campus for both students and staff. Among other things: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from travel by 7% every year. Some of the feedback is that 7 per cent is not very ambitious, and that many of the other suggested measures put too much responsibility on the individual.

Many are also calling for a green fund or a climate pool of money that can really stimulate a green shift on campus.

– For several years, our departments at the central administration have worked to reduce emissions from energy use and to improve the green profile of, among other things, purchases. More detailed annual climate accounts are now being prepared, and from 2020 onward, we will be able to present good overviews. It is clear that we must also cut emissions from business trips compared to 2018, and with an average of 7% annual cuts until 2030, we should be able to achieve at least reducing emissions by half, Halskov Hansen explains.

– I do not believe that these cuts will affect professional activity, and I think it is possible to make cuts without weakening our research and education. If so, we have to develop the use of the many digital tools that we have become accustomed to during the pandemic, and many of our staff have to travel a little less than we did before Covid-19 put an end to this in 2020.