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Professor Karen O'Brien - Durham University's Vice-Chancellor

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O'Brien, explores the role Durham University plays in tackling some of society's biggest challenges.

The future of the planet is something we’re all thinking about more and more, not least because of the adverse weather we’ve experienced here in North East England in recent years, such as flooding.

At Durham University we’ve made major steps forwards in sustainability. We are now recognised as one of the world’s leading universities for addressing the most pressing environmental, social and governance challenges society faces today.

One of the best in the world for sustainability 

We’ve been named in the top 20 of over 1,400 universities worldwide in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability and received a ‘first class’ ranking in the People and Planet University Guide.

These rankings are testament to the impact and ambition of our environmental policies and our research. On research, our experts are tracking ice sheet melting, the impact of a changing climate on animal migration and implications for international policy and law-making. On campus, we’ve recently adopted a new Sustainability Ambition Statement with two key targets: achieving net zero carbon by 2035 and biodiversity net gain by 2032.

Our Biodiversity Strategy is one area where we’re working with residents, groups and other partners to ensure Durham remains the very special place we all know it to be.

Supporting the community

Another is through our volunteering. University staff and students gave over 22,000 hours of their time to volunteering last year, helping many local charities and causes. Much of this is environment-focused, including litter picks, beach cleans and gardening. It was pleasing to see this contribution recognised with the Business of the Year title in the County Durham Together Awards.

Finally, we also work with local partners on the cultural agenda. Earlier this month Arts Council England, through the National Lottery, announced £1.25 million in funding for a partnership involving the University, Durham County Council and the Culture Durham Partnership. This will fund Into the Light, which will include world-class events, skills development and community activities, beginning in 2025.

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