Universities from across the Commonwealth have pledged to work together on a series of initiatives to support higher education institutions and their communities to develop resilience to climate change.
The Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network – established by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) – agreed a two-year work programme for climate change adaptation, covering institutional policy and practices, teaching and learning, research capacity, and communication and advocacy.
The need for universities to improve their disaster and contingency planning and adaptation measures in the face of increased threats from climate hazards was underlined by the key findings from a recent survey of institutions in the Caribbean. The survey results were discussed at the first meeting of the CCRN, hosted by The University of the West Indies (The UWI) at its Regional Headquarters in Jamaica earlier this month.
The survey, commissioned by the Association of Caribbean Tertiary Institutions (ACTI) and supported by the ACU, uncovered the scale and breadth of how universities and other higher education institutions are being affected by climate events.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season – one of the most destructive in history – caused damages totalling at least USD 30 million to higher education institutions in the Caribbean region. Institutions also reported being closed for up to three months, losing teaching time for face-to-face and online classes.
The CCRN will use the survey findings to design interventions for universities to enhance their resilience, and offer training and support to improve institutional policies and practice. There are also plans to extend the survey to other regions of the Commonwealth, to build a true picture of the impact of climate events on universities.
Over the next two years, the CCRN will also focus on improving teaching and learning and increasing research capacity for climate change adaptation.
The CCRN will share and co-develop learning materials and teaching resources, including course modules, webinars, lectures, and peer learning resources. Following the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships in Climate Resilience offered this year, the network will develop postgraduate and short-term mobility programmes for students and researchers.
The diversity of membership of the network – 20 universities in 11 countries – makes it an ideal vehicle for comparative studies. CCRN members can also draw on the ACU's experience in research capacity building – for example, the CIRCLE project, which addresses the lack of sufficient support for a solid base for climate research in Africa.
Universities also have a critical role to play in supporting local communities, business, and governments to develop resilience to climate change, through research, outreach and teaching. The ACTI survey found that institutions affected by the 2017 hurricanes allowed their facilities to be used to assist their island's recovery by serving as emergency shelters, food distribution centres, communication hubs, and operation coordination centres.
The CCRN will look at how universities can better communicate and advocate for climate resilience, drawing on the ACU's access to policymakers in Commonwealth and UN circles.
Jeremy Collymore, Consultant in Disaster Resilience at The UWI and Co-Convenor of the CCRN, said 'There is a clear role for universities in the battle for adapting to a changing climate. The Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network provides a space for collaborative action among ACU members to assist in altering the trajectory of damage, disruption and loss resulting from climate hazards. This is a key step in supporting the communities we serve in mitigating and adapting to the challenges arising from climate change and the changing climate'.
Alex Wright, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the ACU, said 'Climate change is a pressing issue for many Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network brings together universities from diverse settings – small island states, coastal areas, arid regions – to share knowledge and work towards practical solutions to ensuring that institutions are ready and able to adapt'.
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The Commonwealth Climate Resilience Network – established by the ACU in partnership with Fiji National University (FNU), the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) – links universities directly affected by climate change with those that have expertise in building resilience. The network directly addresses the practical needs of universities and communities, through the sharing of knowledge and best practice, and provides a platform for universities to connect with policymakers, helping develop effective approaches to resilience and disaster preparedness.
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