Report from Madrid: How key COP25 participants perceive climate change education for sustainable development


Oleksandra Khalaim, visiting researcher, at COP25.

What kind of educational tools and methods are actually used by universities and relevant institutions presented at COP this year? Oleksandra Khalaim, visiting researcher at SWEDESD, reports from her first two days at the climate change conference #COP25 in Madrid, Spain.

Monday 2 December 2019

The first COP day’s morning was nicely shaped by Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) of Potsdam together with Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), which provided a common space “to deepen meaningful interaction, build trust and engage openly in honest dialogue and reflection” for negotiators and stakeholders of observer organizations under their event “Co-Creative Reflection and Dialogue Space at COP25”. The IASS team tried “to offer a space where can meet in formats that are typically not formats used in side events, but are more structured than informal dialogues in breaks”. With a mix of moderation techniques, such as appreciative inquiry, circle dialogue, and world café, we went through reflection and dialogue on how we experience the current culture of the COP.

 A group of participants from Gambia, Australia, Ukraine, and Germany share their first impressions and discuss how they are affected, and what kind of expectations they have at COP25. Foto: Oleksandra Khalaim

 Interestingly, that regardless the country and previous experience of COP participation, it was a common feeling of belongingness, being excited, desire to work more and expand personal network. A nice start for the week!

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Today it was many insights related to climate change university education in USA.
A brief and occasional "coffee" talk with a university professor who guides a student group from Minnesota here at COP25 was quite in line with panel discussions of US university professors later this day. He is teaching climate change science related courses, and complains about low interest among students to take these courses. The reason is that almost any climate related courses are being taught in colleges in US, he claims.

Panel discussions at COP25. Foto: Oleksandra Khalaim

The same gap between climate science and youth activism was indicated at the panel discussion “Contributions of higher education to climate action and implementation of the Paris Agreement” help by Vanderbilt University, Moravian College, University of Hawai’i (USA), National University of Singapore, , and Monash University (Australia). As indicated on the slide from the photo, "students in U.S. colleges and universities are generally not being exposed to climate change concepts". An institutional shift is needed to make climate change classes obligatory in colleges.

A gap between climate science, youth activism, and governmental decision-makers on the local level was also indicated. “Locally produced research can help decision-makers respond to local climate-related issues … but ready access to this information … remains a challenge”, the research indicates (Goldman and Hyams 2019).

The necessity of a good-quality climate science communication was raised in a private talk with a professor from Colorado State University later the same day. “We need to communicate our science better, and bring much more interdisciplinarity both in our university education and research. In many cases my colleagues from different fields simply do not know about climate-related research of each other, as they do not speak the same language and do not sit at one table to work together”, she says.

The same day, a large group of U.S. student leaders presented case studies from their campuses that address SDGs at the side event “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals”. It is remarkable, how many US universities and related organizations participated in COP25, bringing big groups of students (up to 25 from each!), inspired to induce changes locally. They organized a quite big number of side-events to show their awareness and any practical steps done. However, the focus on research is made rather on practical locally based small steps, as it is more popular in education-based initiatives of Europe.

U.S. student leaders presented case studies from their campuses that address Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Foto: Oleksandra Khalaim

At the same time, it is worth noticing, that at the first week of COP25 European universities have not participated so actively in terms of side-events organized and participants amount.

03.12.2019 Side Events

Reflections and details on the side event “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals”

Student leaders from different academic institutions presented case studies from their campuses that address SDGs. Students discussed how universities could incorporate SDGs throughout the curriculum and encourage youth-led action. They proposed toolkits for campus and community engagement

Three universities – Clark, Colorado, and Michigan – presented their insights and some practical initiatives.

Practically, students are focusing their efforts to SDG 1 “Zero Hunger” by introducing a system of food waste operation and composting as a common project of all three universities. They organized a volunteer-based project on university campus’ food waste collecting, composting, then using the compost for an urban gardening, and selling the yield to local community.

More theoretically, at Colorado University they deal with SDG “Gender Equality” by doing research on gender balance among university staff, interviewing working women on barriers and obstacles they have while working in university. They propose and try to initiate different gender equality based initiatives, among them such remarkable ones as “all-gender restrooms” and “feminist fight club”.

Even more theoretically, students focus on NSDG 6 “Clean water”, exploring case studies of natural water pollution and wastewater treatment, mapping them along US under Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Coming forward to SDGs related to renewable energy operations at university, students presented a solar farm of Colorado State University. Remarkably, in 2010 CSU already completed its first Climate Action Plan. And students from Africa, inspired by its case, proposed a micro-grid system for Rwanda.

SDG 11 “Sustainable Cities” – university-based complex decisions were overviewed. One of them was the sustainability demonstration house at the campus of Michigan University with solar panels, composting facilities, local gardening, low slow shower heads at water facilities.

SDG 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production” was covered by research at three university campuses – interviewing university staff and students if they know what is circular economy, if they care on sustainability issues, and if it is presented at the campus.

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