How to Build University Partnerships for Climate Action

Effective university-industry partnerships can propel higher education’s contribution to climate action, so how can your institution build these partnerships? 

In New York’s Union Square, the Climate Clock’ is counting down the time left to prevent the devastating effects of climate change.  

At the time of writing thisthe clock estimates the world has just over seven years left of its ‘carbon budget,’ in other words “the amount of CO2 that can still be released into the atmosphere while limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” 

It’s a harrowing reminder that, even amid a global pandemic, the world is battling another enemy, climate change.  

Higher education has a crucial role to play in climate action. Some of the most impactful research into climate change solutions is currently taking place at universities. 

For example, multiple research projects into sustainable development and environmentalism are being conducted at the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije University in Amsterdam 

Research areas currently being explored at the institution include Global Drought and Water Resources Modelling; Governance Innovation and Institutional Change; and Land Use Change Analysis and Modelling. 

In addition to research capabilities, universities contribute to the fight against climate change by educating and inspiring the next leaders in climate action. 

It’s now common to see traditional courses adapted with climate action in mind, including the MA Fashion Futures at London College of Fashion which “places sustainability at the heart of fashion practice to help shape the next generation of sustainable brands and fashion pioneers.” 

Universities are under increasing pressure to adopt more socially conscious initiativescenter sustainability in their long-term strategies, and champion the fight against climate change.  

As a result, the partnerships universities develop, including the projects and organizations funded by institutions, are being placed under the microscope.  

Partnerships that are seen to dismantle an institution’s socially responsible image, and that works against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, are sure to be judged negatively.  

In fact, effective university partnerships can, and should, accelerate an institution’s work on climate action 

As explained bFeridun HamdullahpurPresident and Vice-Chancellor at University of Waterloo in Canada: “No single researcher, university, or nation can achieve a breakthrough solution alone... finding success is only possible when we work together as a global community of educators, researchers, and influencers.” 

In May 2018, the Group of Experts on SDGs and Higher Education was established, a team of “representatives of some of the major networks working on sustainable development and higher education. 

The purpose of the group was to create a space for “debate, collaboration, and sharing of expertise from different regions of the world, cultures, and perspectives” to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

Since its creation, the group has published reports, such as Implementing the 2030 Agenda at Higher Education Institutions: Challenges and Reponses, and hosted conferences.  

The group demonstrates the benefits of developing effective international partnerships in higher education, combining multiple disciplines and talent from a range of countries to better contributto climate action 

University-industry partnerships can also help advance sustainability goals.  

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) is described as a ground-breaking strategic research partnership created in 2007 to tackle the application of modern biology to energy problems.  

EBI works in partnership with several higher education institutions, including the University of California, Berkeley; the Lawrence Berkeley National Labatory; and the University of Illinois, and is supported by the energy company BP 

BP supports the partnership not only in a financial sense, providing a grant of US$500 million, but also plays a significant, but non-authoritative, role in the work being done at the institute.  

According to Paul A. Willems, technology vice president of energy biosciences at BP: “We have a lot of input on a strategic level, but not on day-to-day implementation….Everything we do is through influencing and being part of the scientific process as opposed to formal authority.” 

With the creation of EBI, there were several positive outcomes for BP’s partner universities, including increasing the multidisciplinary studies focus” and the development of a “formal energy biosciences curriculum.”  

Contributing to the fight against climate change should be a consistent goal at all higher education institutions, remaining at the forefront of all decision making.  

Collaborative partnerships bring together talent and resources from a multitude of cultures and disciplines and can help propel the higher education sector’s contribution to climate action. 

To learn more about how higher education institutions are combating climate change, please register for the QS APPLE 2020 virtual event: New Global Partnerships for Resilience and Climate Action. 

Note: Delegates with full access tickets will be able to revisit the event’s content on demand for a full month after the event. 

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