The Role of Higher Education in Supporting Climate Change Solutions

Climate Change Mitigation

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the most recognizable and influential global authority on the environment, includes climate change mitigation as one of its major environmental proposals. Climate change mitigation simply means endeavours undertaken to mitigate or reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

But what do these mitigative endeavours include? The use of new technologies, renewable, non-conventional energy resources, making older technology adapt to more energy-efficient ways, enlightening people about climate change and the measures taken to prevent it, etc. are all mitigative efforts. And higher education institutes like colleges and universities should play an important role in climate change mitigation.

EVS as a Higher Education Discipline

Environmental studies should no longer be a separate, peripheral programme in higher education. Instead, it should be made a core area of subjective enquiry. Education, training, and research scopes in environmental sciences should be given as much prominence as any other major field of knowledge. Given how burning a topic climate change is, it should be given the right academic thrust that it deserves.

It must be remembered that awareness about the environment is neither the prerogative nor the responsibility of any one group of individuals. Yes, there are organisations that solely devote themselves to implementing policies and programmes taken for natural, ecological development. But climate change does not affect only one group of people in any one part of the world. It is a global phenomenon that affects everyone including animals, plants and human beings. And the latter is primarily responsible for the environmental deterioration that has occurred over centuries.

Unlike other subjects, environmental studies, as a discipline in its own right, does not concern itself with only a single branch of learning. It incorporates a multidisciplinary approach, because understanding human interaction with the environment requires the inclusion of principles and philosophies from natural sciences, social sciences and even humanities.

For climate change to garner the attention it needs, environmental studies must be made mandatory for all students taught at colleges and universities. In India, the most significant step towards this direction made in the recent past was the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) 2019 declaration that made it imperative for all universities to make EVS a compulsory subject for undergraduate scholars of all branches.

Under this injunction, issued by the Supreme Court of India, the UGC granted EVS the status of a compulsory core subject in the undergraduate curriculum, with a detailed, well outlined syllabus. However, while this declaration must be lauded for the education administration’s acknowledgement and recognition of contemporary global challenges, the drawbacks of the actual execution of the decision must also be addressed and properly remedied.

Emphasis on Climate Change Awareness

First and foremost, climate change issues must be given primary focus in the environmental studies syllabus. This should be done in order to make the course more contemporary, stressing on prevalent problems. Climate change mitigation is all about grasping the immediacy, the urgency of the matter. Secondly, climate change studies must not fall into the category of “pass” courses. For in the latter, students are taught from a strictly exam point of view. The approach becomes very theoretical and pedantic, which encourages students to consider the subject as simply a formality to be done away with. For this reason, regular classes must be scheduled where the nuances of climate change are explained. Existing models for sustainable development taken by small and big organisations for climate change mitigation must be taught to students.

What Higher Education Can and Must Do

Higher education has a significant edge as compared to other levels of learning when it comes to finding and supporting climate change solutions. It is undoubtedly true that the media has the greatest influence in making people aware about environmental concerns worldwide. The layman informs himself about climatic alterations in and around the world by reading the newspaper or watching TV, or through information provided on social platforms. But specialised information and knowledge about climate change, the nitty-gritties of its causes and effects are beyond the purview of the media. That can only be provided in colleges and varsities. Many a time, it has often been observed that, since environmental studies is still a very recent discipline to have emerged and been included in higher education curricula, it fails to attract serious attention on the part of education authorities. This results in an inadequate or unqualified faculty whose onus it is to teach EVS to undergraduates. Leading environmentalists, be it in the form of environmental activists, scientists, writers or artists, should therefore be welcomed by higher education institutions. Consciousness about climate change is obviously not entirely theoretical. Therefore, universities and colleges should take advantage of their research facilities by organising fieldwork projects and assignments, where students can start from the basics, such as learning about natural ecosystems like ponds and lakes. Learning about the threats (mostly man-made, rather than natural) to such ecosystems will help sustain them for a long period of time. If the students are able to identify a menace to their local environment, they will have their college or university backing them, a much needed institutional support when they bring an issue to the attention of the municipality or other government bodies.

Last year, on 23 September, 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, created sensation when she gave a highly charged speech in the United Nations Climate Action Summit, accusing world leaders of negligence when it comes to recognising climate change as a pressing matter. Thunberg expressed the collective anguish of the young generation and the misfortune of the succeeding ones who will have to bear the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change, the culmination of endless exploitation of natural resources and continued indifference towards environmental degradation for ages.

Higher education authorities should take note of climate change as the need of the hour, something that students and scholars should be adequately informed about, for they are the leaders of tomorrow. The emergence of young climate activists like Greta needs governmental representation and support in the form of colleges and universities, providing them the means to continue their struggle and forge a better world for the generations to come.

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