At a time when the scientific community has been hailed for its work in providing evidence and recommendations in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impact of climate change on different communities, universities, as institutions, are absent from the COP27 framework and agenda.
Despite this, higher education institutions have lit the way for policymakers to achieve climate goals and paved the way for decarbonization and energy transition processes.
This was the notion shared by global university leaders and students during a roundtable during COP27 in Egypt on the theme “Universities as key solution providers: leveraging our local and global networks for the ‘innovation”.
In her keynote address at an event attended by the academic community, Professor Annelise Riles, executive director of the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and vice president for global affairs at Northwestern University in Chicago, United States, pointed out that despite developing thousands of technological, policy and societal innovations by working closely with local and global partners across all sectors, universities have not been fully recognized and present in discussions and the debates on climate change at COP27.
The event, held on November 17, 2022, was organized by the U7+ Alliance of Global Universities representing institutions from the South and North with representatives from the Global Universities Network, the University Coalition Against Climate Change (UC3), Second Nature and Italy University Network for Sustainable Development sharing concrete examples of the work done by universities to advance the COP27 agenda. The climate conference ended on November 20.
Student research a valuable contribution
More than a dozen masters and doctoral students showed how universities are uniquely positioned to advance climate action through studies and research projects in faculties such as environmental engineering , mechanical engineering and energy and environmental systems.
Universities have trained the next generation of leaders and built the capacity of local communities, municipalities and decision makers. In addition, through research activities, they have contributed to reducing the carbon footprint through sustainable technologies such as thermoelectric generators.
Masters student in Energy and Environmental Systems at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, Luke Sperry emphasized the importance of future energy systems research to bridge the gap between net zero ambitions and net zero ambitions. solutions available.
“I have worked to quantify this gap (net-zero and available solutions) with all associated costs and benefits. Local government has been very interested in our work and our energy models have been used to develop and illustrate pathways for policymakers and adapted regional models for other provinces to use as needed,” he said.
Sperry further pointed out that the energy model is the product of more than a decade of research and development involving dozens of collaborators and contributors. “Over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear to me that this scale of collaboration is essential to properly plan and prepare for a zero GHG (greenhouse gas) future, which is why universities are about to play such an important role. in the energy transition.
Young researchers work with cities
Brianna Gordon, a PhD student at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University in Canberra, also spoke about how her current research is crucial for climate action.
“When we discuss climate change, I think we need to discuss all aspects of human-made impacts on the environment, including mercury pollution, which is exacerbated by rising global temperatures and its impact on people, the planet and the environment,” she said. said.
“Here at COP27, I hope to raise awareness of the issues of mercury pollution and its link to rising global temperatures and climate change. Also, as an Indigenous woman, I want to raise the profile of Indigenous people.
Wei-Sheng Chen, from National Cheng Kung University of Tainan in Taiwan, highlighted the work of his faculty. They address water quality issues and minimize the negative impact of ecology on drinking water systems.
“We continue to improve the collaboration between the university, the government and the community – not only in Taiwan, but also abroad. This includes publishing the results of our studies, holding workshops and working on these issues together,” he said.
The collaborative observatory connects science, society
Cécile Sabourault, professor of biology and specialist in globalization, announced the creation of an observatory of socio-ecological transition called Observatory of Ecological and Citizen Transition Côte d’Azur (OTECCA) at University of the French Riviera (University of the Côte d’Azur) in Nice, France.
The project was composed of researchers, representatives of associations and representatives of student organizations and involved a case study on the critical role of universities and science in climate action.
Sabourault said the mission of the collaborative observatory is to document and analyze the territory, acquire multi-sector data, implement and promote scientific and societal research.
“The role of the observatory is to interface with the scientific and civil communities to gather, produce and share knowledge on the socio-ecological transition in a specific territory and to increase the actions of citizens, decision-makers and other stakeholders. through better collaboration,” she says.
“We want to promote and disseminate scientific culture and citizen science. The observatory addresses topics ranging from agriculture, consumption and culture to energy, economy, education, environment, food and health.
Global academic collaboration is key
University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor Bill Flanagan stressed the importance of uniting universities behind the common goal of tackling global challenges such as climate change.
“As we all know, climate change is a global issue that affects the world in very different ways. No university has the capacity to find the solutions the planet needs. The Global Universities Network is a North-South collaboration, and our universities span the globe,” he said.
The network brings together 24 universities – three in North America, one in South America, four in Africa, eight in Europe, four in Asia and two [each] in Australia and New Zealand, Flanagan said.
“This collaboration is essential to address the type of challenges the world is facing and it is also important that universities are more present at COP27 because it is in universities that the solutions will be found thanks to the talent of our students and our faculties.”
Professor Patrizia Lombardi, expert in sustainable urban development at Polytechnic of Turin (Polytechnic University of Turin), also commented on the different ways universities have worked as key partners with cities and local communities, serving as laboratories for experimenting with new ways to achieve sustainability.
Cities cannot achieve neutrality alone
“Universities, cities and communities play a crucial role in this transition to our society’s carbon neutrality and regeneration economy, therefore, partnership is a win-win and the only way to accelerate the transition” , she said.
“The only way to achieve this is for learning communities to play an active role in multi-level governance as cities need to accelerate the transition to achieve neutrality by 2050. But statistics and targets indicate that they won’t.” able to do so unless there are collaborative efforts.
As president of the Italian Network of Universities for Sustainable Development, Lombardi pointed out that the organization is developing an observatory with the support of university rectors to bring together universities, cities and communities towards the common goal of transition. towards clean energy and decarbonization.
“Our network was built to be able to connect with municipalities, local communities and regional governments to support this transition. Universities, especially in Italy, are part of cities and their laboratories and campuses are on the way to decarbonization. This offers the opportunity to achieve both goals (clean energy transition and decarbonization) by working with local authorities to decarbonize entire cities,” said Lombardi.