As Cairo prepares to host the UN Climate Change Conference COP 27 in 2022 with the great support of the African countries, the fact that Egypt, the home of one of the oldest civilisations on the planet, is especially concerned about global climate change and its consequences on sustainable development comes as no surprise. Yet, while climate change poses serious threats to human civilisation, also offers opportunities to create a better future.
Today, the world’s universities like other institutions face clear and growing risks from climate disruption, and it is critical that society be aware of these. Addressing them can provide the opportunity to renovate and re-equip universities to make them safe, secure and active in the face of change and with a view to solving real-world problems, providing the education and research needed to maintain a sustainable society.
Climate change education (CCE) in particular when carried out at university level aims to address and develop effective responses. Communities can learn more about how climate change will affect them, what they can do to protect themselves from its negative consequences, and how they can reduce their own climate footprint.
The present author has already discussed the role that Egyptian universities can play in furthering awareness of climate change and sustainable development. The country’s universities have a crucial role to play in addressing climate change, and while there is a growing body of work on campus sustainability and climate issues in the curriculum, there is also a need to understand more holistically the forms of influence that universities have on society and the environment. As guidelines for implementing CCE are not yet commonly applied on all campuses, higher-education institutions should support further efforts related to it.
Today, these institutions face clear and growing risks from climate disruption. But these risks are not evenly distributed. There is now abundant evidence that the first and worst-affected communities by climate disruption are, and increasingly will be, low-income and minority communities, despite the fact that they have some of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. This raises huge moral questions and is the spark behind the growing movement for climate justice.
It is important that college and university presidents and those with fiduciary responsibility for such institutions be aware of climate risks. Preparing for these using the principles of resilience can open up new opportunities for campuses to reposition themselves as 21st-century community hubs with even closer ties to their locations and as models for leading society into a new era of creativity, cooperation and vibrancy in the face of unprecedented change.
Because contemporary society is facing more and more challenges related to climate change, in addition to mitigation and adaptation strategies, educational resources are a fundamental element in responses to these challenges. CCE represents a component that should be added to environmental education and education for sustainable development since it generates knowledge about climate change and encourages behavioural changes towards greater sustainability.
In Egypt, there are no specific guidelines on how CCE should be integrated into national and local curricula, even as this is necessary in order to cope with the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), especially as these relate to impacts in the Nile Delta and on the coast. Over recent years, Egypt has experienced several extreme weather events, and for CCE to be successful, a key pathway is to bring university action together with university research.
Adaptation to climate change has emerged as one of the most important concerns on the global development agenda today. Changes to, and variability in, the climate and the world’s ecosystems are already being observed by scientists and local communities. In Egypt, with its diverse natural environment and social systems, these changes are affecting different areas in different ways. This poses significant implications for development planning, and how Egypt adapts, and the solutions it creates, to overcome adverse climate change risks must be developed locally while being supported by regional and global knowledge and experience.
Key to this is an educated and technically-skilled labour force that can conduct the necessary research and develop effective solutions to create an Egypt that has expertise and experience in climate science through collaborative research between independent research institutes and external partners. One key step forward will be how to unite such expertise with the expertise of Egyptian universities in order to build a bottom-up community of connected educators, researchers, students, practitioners, policy makers and local groups for climate change adaptation. In this regard, the country’s higher-education institutions are well placed to conduct applied postgraduate research in close partnership with government and non-government agencies as well as local communities.
To increase public awareness of the issues, there is a need to increase public sensitivity to the environment, development problems and their solution, and personal responsibility and greater motivation and commitment towards sustainable development. Many environmental problems are caused by an absence of public awareness, including the unwise use of resources, various kinds of pollution, an imbalance between population growth and available resources, the spread of diseases and the destruction of land or its misuse.
A main objective must therefore be to promote public awareness as an essential part of educational efforts to strengthen attitudes, values and actions that are compatible with sustainable development. The media currently offers some activities in this area, but there is no organised campaign. The press is doing little to promote public awareness, and mosques, churches, clubs, industry and unions are not doing enough to foster awareness among the public of the need to become a more adaptive and resilient society.
Egypt has a vast pool of human talent, and this needs to be further cultivated and sustained through more dynamic scientific and technical educational institutions.
* The writer is a professor of chemistry, Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly