Global Climate Conference - Day 3: Student engagement and climate justice

18th November 2020

Another day of thought-provoking content at the week long EAUC virtual conference Global Climate 2020.
The morning plenary started with an in-depth look at student engagement on sustainability issues and the power this has for transformation within institutions. Liliia Akatova, a student at Vienna University of Economics and Business and a member of oikos Vienna, chaired the session. 
Liliia started by talking about sustainability from her perspective as an economics student, outlining how the atypical graphs used when teaching economics and business generally don’t factor in the environment. Liliia went on to say she felt this wasn’t right, and decided to be the change, joining oikos which is an organisation run by students, for students, that aims to make economics management education purposed for a sustainable world. Liliia discussed curriculum change, and the need for more students to get involved with curriculum change initiatives to guarantee education for a sustainable world. Liliia concluded that every small change will be multiplied, so students shouldn’t be afraid to be the change – it often all starts with a simple email.

Virendra Rawat, Founder and Director of Global Green School in India gave a brilliant presentation on the successful ways the Global Green School has brought sustainability to its students and wider community. Virenda emphasised the power of bringing nature to education and fashion, and showed the strategic ways they had embedded this concept; from auditing to training, events and solutions. The school is a big promoter of reconnecting people with their culture and rituals to better understand nature, bring about wider change and make more balanced decisions. 
Chester James-Smith, a medical student at University of Tasmania and winner of an Australasian Green Grown Award (‘Student Champion in Green Impact’), talked about a student initiative he created in Tasmania. Chester talked abut how it is easy to feel disconnected from climate issues if they are not directly in front of you. He outlined a programme the university runs called ‘Sustainability Integration Program for Students’ (SIPS) that he took part in. Chester sought to find a sustainability initiative that would engage peers and was hands on – deciding on a Herb Garden. He created this as a community initiative with other students, and other initiatives have followed. He said while small projects may seem insignificant, they inspire people and strengthen community connections, enabling you to start to tackle larger issues.
Dimitris-Marcos Stoidis, President of Enactus Southampton was the last speaker in the morning plenary. He grabbed delegates’ attention with a brilliant example of a Southampton Enactus initiative in which students had made beer from bread. Enactus is the world’s largest experiential learning programme, it sits across 37 countries, in 60 universities, with 72,000 students participating every year. Enactus encourages students to set up social enterprises, and the ‘brewed from bread’ was one such initiative. Based on the issue that 900,000 tonnes of bread is wasted every year, and a lack of sustainable beers, students launched ‘future brew’ in January 2020. It has been greeted with success and has since gained further investment, and saved 11.7 tonnes of CO2 from going into the atmosphere.  Dimitris-Marcos praised enactus as a brilliant way for students to get involved and improve the world around them, gain real world experience and start a great career.
Panellists were asked how they recommended institutions get more students engaged with sustainability. The responses were very useful, and included suggesting the need to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, designing campuses in ways that ensure sustainability was centre stage, creating internships based on sustainability for students, facilitating opportunities for young people to reconnect with nature, focusing on happiness and incentivisations.
Workshops followed the plenary, and ranged from mass engagement in climate action to SDG success. 
The afternoon plenary had a variety of truly impressive speakers lined up to talk about the incredibly difficult topic of climate justice. Nona McDuff, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Solent University chaired the session. Nona detailed how we must use data to shine a light on our successes and failures when it comes to social justice in our institutions and narrow the awarding gap. Nona went on to say that we can only address racial inequality in institutions by adopting an inclusive curriculum framework, which means a curriculum that is accessible, in which all students see themselves reflected, and that equips students with the skills to positively contribute to and work in a global and diverse environment. 
Sara Khan, Vice President for Liberation and Equality at National Union of Students spoke passionately about inequality in the sphere of environmental activism and how we need to change structures that facilitate climate injustice – primarily through decolonising education. Sara spoke about the difference between climate justice and climate action, and how we should not raise white voices over indigenous voices that have been trying to battle the climate crisis alone for so long and have a far better understanding of social justice than white counterparts. Sara said that we must not repeat our colonial past, and climate action must not boil down to ‘who is important and who is disposable’. When it comes to those withstanding the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is presently looking to be those that have least contributed towards it – we must identify and battle colonial systems and structures to prevent them being replicated and ensure true climate justice.
One delegate remarked of Sara’s discussion points: “Really interesting link that I have not been introduced to before! It is allowing me to self-reflect ways in which I have perpetuated this is my own educational context so thank you for the challenge!”
The plenary then moved onto legal and mental health consequences of the climate crisis with panellist Maya Prabhu, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Maya talked about how there is a legal gap for those displaced by the climate crisis, which will be increasingly common as the world continues to warm. Maya went on to outline the negative mental health impact climate-induced displacement and climate events cause and how there are large research barriers as most of the climate science research is being undertaken in the global North. The Global South is where the primary affects of the climate crisis are being felt, and research being conducted in the North adds language barriers to possible solutions, and solutions that are not necessarily place based, which is what is required.
The final panellist was Rhian Sherrington, Founder of Women in Sustainability, who stated there can be no climate justice without gender justice. Rhian talked about deconstructing the male narrative when it comes to the climate crisis, to ensure women’s voices are heard as we must involve those that will be affected by decisions in the decision-making process. This theme was a common thread throughout panellist discussions today and caused delegates to think more widely about the way they approach sustainability and the climate crisis, and how they can ‘unthink’ some of their inbuilt misconceptions.
Another eight workshops followed the plenary, including sessions on how to use energy data to influence senior management, developing research and its impact, engaging students as partners in tackling climate policy issues and climate justice in leadership. The day was wrapped up with an interesting documentary called ‘Run the line’.
Delegate are reminded that they will have access to the recordings of plenaries for 30 days on the conference platform, so do make the most of these! We look forward to the penultimate day tomorrow with even more on the agenda
Global Climate Conference - Day 3: Student engagement and climate justice image #1