Following our successful symposium in February, Monika Antal, Executive Manager at Yorkshire Universities, has written a blog post reflecting on the event and how it shaped her thinking for the rest of 2020.

One of the last non-virtual gatherings (remember those?) I attended this year was the Climate + Culture + Collaboration event organised by Culture Forum North on the 27th of February. At the time of registering to it, I remember thinking it will be a treat to participate in something that combines professional and personal interests on the same date as my birthday, so I was really looking forward to it.

The event set out to explore some punchy questions: what actions and innovative solutions can partnerships achieve? What sort of collaborations will propel the cultural shift needed to achieve a zero-carbon future? What are the models for embedding artistic enquiry within climate change research? How can a collective response yield greater environmental impact? After a day packed with information and discussion, I came away buzzing, (in mild shock after Jamie Saye’s highly impactful lunchtime carbon literacy workshop) and inspired from having met so many committed people keen to work together to bring about change. It got me thinking.

I work for a regional partnership of twelve universities in Yorkshire, aptly called Yorkshire Universities (YU). The Vice-Chancellors and Principals of these institutions who are the Board members of YU have been working in collaboration since the 1980s on common issues and challenges. Regardless of size, specialism or whether one is a teaching- or research-intensive institution, undoubtedly the biggest common challenge is climate change. Simply because it has an impact on everyone and everything.

By March – April, we came to realise that the pandemic was going to do the same. But that didn’t mean the climate crisis was going to go away. In fact, it created a perfect storm. We could go into great detail about the things that went painfully wrong in the process and should have been done better and no doubt these will be topics of discussion and deliberation over the coming months. But by early summer the response to the crisis and the desire to ‘build back better’ emphasised the value of a green and inclusive recovery, circular economies, just transition, green skills, clean technologies, responsible innovation and net zero targets and places. By the end of November, the government published its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and the National Infrastructure Strategy. Would these have emerged regardless, without COVID-19 and its consequences appearing on the scene this year?

I feel absolutely devastated about the lives lost and the health, mental and economic hardship this pandemic has (and will continue to) put us and our families through. Yet I notice a driving force that is making a difference, is bringing about real change and is making me feel optimistic and hopeful. That force is creativity. Finding innovative solutions to the systemic and increasingly complex challenges we’re facing will require us to harness and deploy all the creative talents at our disposal. Culture and creativity are not simply after-thoughts or ‘fringe benefits’ to our everyday lives; they are the essential ingredients to improving our prosperity, our health and well-being and the world around us.

One of the major opportunities to harness the energy and determination from Culture + Climate + Collaboration event and for all of us at Culture Forum North and the universities of Yorkshire is to pull and work together under the umbrella of the independent Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission currently being established. It will bring together public, private and third sector actors to support, guide and track the delivery of ambitious climate actions across the region, with an equal focus on promoting climate resilience and working towards net zero emissions. By operating at the regional scale, the Commission will support local actions whilst also promoting Yorkshire and the Humber in national and international debates. The regional Commission will work with and learn from/support the activities of the local Climate Commissions and Coalitions that have been established or are emerging within the region. Now that is something to look forward to.

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