UNITED NATIONS — Networks and organizations representing more than 7,000 institutions of higher and further education around the world have signed a letter declaring "a climate emergency" and committing to tackle it, the U.N. environment agency said Wednesday.

UN Environment representative Sam Barrett announced the initiative at a U.N. meeting promoting higher education. Organizers said they hope 10,000 institutions will sign the letter by the end of 2019.

The letter says: "The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change."

It commits the institutions to support a three-point plan that includes mobilizing resources for climate change research, increasing education on preserving the environment, and going carbon neutral by 2030, or 2050 at the very latest.

Barrett said the letter marked the first time higher education establishments have joined forces to address climate change. The letter was organized by UN Environment's Youth and Education Alliance, the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, and U.S.-based Second Nature, a higher education climate action organization.

Among the individual universities signing the letter were California State University, the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Strathmore University in Kenya, Tongji University in China, KEDGE Business School in France, Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico.

"Young people are increasingly at the forefront of calls for more action on climate and environmental challenges," said Inger Andersen, UN Environment's executive director.

"Initiatives which directly involve the youth in this critical work are a valuable contribution to achieving environmental sustainability," she said in a statement.

In the United States, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York are pushing legislation in Congress that would(backslash)o designate climate change as an emergency. The legislation, introduced Tuesday night in the House, is designed to highlight the Democrats' focus on global warming and push back on President Donald Trump.

Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement on tackling global warming last year. On Monday, the president declared himself a champion of the environment, despite having launched some of the most sweeping rollbacks in air, water and other protections in decades.