By Netra Mittal, Univeristy at Buffalo Student
Release date: November 3, 2021
The University at Buffalo has played a crucial role in advancing the University Global Coalition’s SDG 13 Decade of Action, alongside the University of Waterloo and the Universidad Carlos III Madrid. As part of this leadership initiative, UB senior Netra Mittal joined an international plenary panel detailing a new study the working group commissioned. The working group set out to map global higher education networks to consolidate efforts to combat climate change based on their nature of work. Addressing this gap by systematically characterizing and mapping these networks, the interplanetary panel presented opportunities to diversify networks. This September, the working group provided recommendations for overcoming barriers that might prevent collaborations at the UGC 2021 Conference.
Key Findings from the Project
The group discovered that many global networks (defined as having more than 15 institutions) do indeed conduct similar outreach activities. The group identified over 30 international networks with more than 6,100 members that met that definition and pursued climate or climate-related activities. They then broke down what kinds of activities these networks engaged: policy, student and community engagement, research, campus action, or education. Of these areas, ‘research’ was the most critical focus for the networks, with 22 networks participating. On the other end, ‘engagement’ was ranked lower as a focus area, with only ten identified networks participating. Some key findings to their research were interpreting those numbers meant when considering the participating institutions and their activity level. “The location of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a role in how they respond to climate action,” Mittal said, “due to the availability of resources, literacy levels, or culture of stakeholder commitment.” Based on the study, HEIs in Europe, North America, and Australia demonstrated a more vital awareness of climate change, its implications for their institutions, and the role that HEIs play in addressing climate change.
On the other hand, Asian, South American, and African HEIs showed a lower awareness about climate change and their roles in climate action. South American HEIs were the least likely to believe that HEIs should have climate policies. In contrast, South American and African universities had minor policy frameworks in place that addressed climate change. According to Mittal, public information and communication is also a determinant of climate action. The study found less general information available from African, Asian, and Australian networks and much more accessible information from North American, South American, and European networks. “The findings make it clear that we need to think about community engagement alongside our policy frameworks in higher-ed,” said Mittal. “Climate change is one large issue with dozens of smaller intricate parts that HEIs must address first,” she added.
Limitations and Next Steps
Institutions must prioritize presenting their findings to the public as public awareness needs to grow and move alongside climate action at the institutional level. However, the report does not consider non-western sources of information that Asian and African HEIs had not displayed in English. “This might cause a bias in our understanding of regional and local networks that may otherwise demonstrate a higher level of community engagement,” Mittal notes. She suspects this could be because countries in the global south demonstrate a culture of collectivism, compared to the culture of individualism we tend to see in the global north. According to the group, an excellent follow-up to this project would be another phase of network analysis to support our findings by looking at these individual institutions on a micro level to account for a more nuanced perspective.
The study provides recommendations for future collaborations: large HEIs must ensure limited barriers (in terms of cost and commitments) for smaller institutions trying to build a significant movement. While presenting at the UGC conference, the working group also stressed the importance of understanding the decision factors involved for networks based on geopolitical and political considerations. An assessment of the different cultural interpretations of what climate change is and what it means to combat climate change that HEIs must consider as well.
“Given we have what is a global challenge, we need to make sure we’re building a global movement with a global representation of the issue,” said Mittal. “We need to consider the balance between global, national, and regional networks and understand how small collaborations can lead to bigger achievements.”
Sustainable Development Goals:
13. Climate Action
17. Partnerships for the Goals