New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

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New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

Plans are advancing at speed to create a new postgraduate degree specialising on the Paris Agreement on climate change in a bid to develop future leaders able to tackle the challenges of sustainability and advance transformative climate action, the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona, Spain, heard.
World Higher Education Conference 2022.
This conference is convened by UNESCO and University World News is the exclusive media partner.

Professor Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi, director of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, Japan, outlined the aims when opening the session at WHEC2022 on how higher education can accelerate climate action under the Paris Agreement.

She described the UNU-IAS, which she assumed leadership of in 2019, as a bridge between UN agencies and higher education, and told delegates to the Barcelona conference that work was progressing well on launching a new postgraduate degree on the Paris Agreement and climate sustainability, which was first mooted at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow.

First of its kind

“The degree will be the first of its kind in the world and the goal is to provide the skills needed across the world to teach action… to implement the Paris Agreement through higher education.”

Professor Yamaguchi said: “Our UNU institute in Tokyo is dedicated to realising a sustainable future for the people and our planet through policy-orientated research, education and capacity development focusing on sustainability, including looking at climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The new postgraduate degree specialisation on the Paris Agreement on climate change is being developed in close collaboration with governments, leading universities and development partners and builds on an existing MSc in Sustainability and a PhD in Sustainability Science offered by UNU-IAS.

Together these two programmes currently have 38 students from 20 developing countries, with scholarships provided to over half of the students.

Develop future climate action leaders

“We are aiming to develop future leaders who will be at the forefront of the climate and sustainable development agenda,” said Yamaguchi, who announced that applications for the new Paris Agreement postgraduate degree will be invited at the end of 2022 and the programme will start in September 2023.

COP26 in Glasgow called on the world to keep the global increase in temperatures to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level, but to implement the measures requires a huge amount of knowledge and government cannot do everything, she said.

“You need large stakeholder coalitions to tackle issues such as phasing out coal and all parties acknowledge the importance of education about environment,” said Yamaguchi.

Transparency a key issue

Transparency, monitoring and accountability are going to be key issues for governments and businesses in meeting the Paris Agreement goals and higher education will play a key role, so people understand climate science.

“We need to develop dynamic training for experts, and coordination across sectors and institutions to collect and share data… and lack of coordination is a problem in many countries,” Yamaguchi told the conference.

Dr Won Jung Byun, programme specialist at UNESCO’s Section of Education for Sustainable Development, welcomed the new qualification from the United Nations University and told the conference that only half of national curricula worldwide mention climate change and fewer than 20% of teachers are able to explain action needed to tackle climate change.

Education systems around the world need to do much more to provide learners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to overcome the climate crisis and sustainability challenges, she said.

Can’t just be left to higher education

But it can’t just be left to higher education, speakers at the session at the UNESCO conference stressed.

Laurent Cortese, deputy head of the Education-Vocational Training-Employment and Higher Education Division of the French Agency for Development, which mainly works in education and development in countries in Africa, said: “If we leave it to higher education, it is too late. We need a holistic approach and to work on environmental and climate issues with the rest of the education system.”

Teacher training is part of higher education in many countries, he pointed out, adding: “We need to ensure coordination between those in charge of higher education and education as a whole and show the importance of issues like climate change and biodiversity.”

Akio Takemoto, programme head at UNU-IAS in Tokyo, agreed it was important to start explaining the impact of climate change at the primary and school level and there was a need for innovative ways to provide a continuous and high-capacity educational system.

Need to look at all levels

“While there was a lot of talk about Masters degrees and PhDs, we also need highly skilled technical people and it is important we train engineers to work with these technicians. We have to look at all levels of higher education.”

Dr Kanako Morita, senior researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change with the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Tsukuba, Japan, told the session: “Youth education is important, but so are other actors, including the companies and financial institutions and local government, who are keen to learn more about climate change. We need to consider education at all levels and social scientists have a big role to play.”

Produce ‘maestros’ to get message across

Cortese said the education system needed to produce “maestros” able to get the message across and with the capacity to handle the difficult questions on a scientific basis.

“We can help identify students who can participate in such programmes in the countries where we intervene. Too often, we all work among ourselves with people who we agree with, but that’s not always the most productive.

“We need to set up partnerships with people who don’t necessarily think the same way we do, [and] that would force students to examine their arguments and to review them.

“It is important to develop soft skills and to meet the needs of different people and not just work with university partnerships with the same outlook.

“We need to establish partnerships with companies, so people go outside their comfort zone and are prepared when they meet people who might not think as they do and who are able to see things in a different way.”


Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.


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On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

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On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

The above-featured image is that of Damascus by France 24.

The Syrian architect and writer on the idea of home in Branagh’s Belfast, smart Arab horses in Homs and the joy of lentils in Damascus

Marwa al-Sabouni

Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect and writer. Born in Homs in 1981, she was living in the city when the civil war broke out in 2011 and remained there with her young family throughout the worst bombardments. In her memoir The Battle for Home, published in 2016, al-Sabouni wrote about the vital role that architecture plays in the functioning of society and how Syria’s future could be shaped by its built environment. In 2021, she published a second book, Building for Hope: Towards an Architecture of Belonging. Al-Sabouni is guest co-director of this year’s Brighton festival, which runs until 29 May.

1. Film

Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)

From left: Caitriona Balfe, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie and Jamie Dornan in Belfast. Photograph: Rob Youngson/Focus Features

 

 

I watched this at home recently – there are no cinemas in Homs. It’s a film about war and love and friendship, about difficult decisions in a time of crisis. I liked the story and how real the actors made it, but also the way it handled the theme of home, which I very much related to – how the family was torn between staying and leaving. The whole dilemma of what to do, and how different people deal with similar questions and end up with different answers, was explored so well. It’s a great movie.

 

2. Novel

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a story set in a fictional version of England many centuries ago. It’s about grudges, and Ishiguro writes about this without naming the feeling, creating a fictional creature – the buried giant – for it as a reference. It’s also about a family’s journey to discover this feeling, and to find a way towards forgiveness. What I loved about this story is the indirect and imaginative way it has of dealing with hidden feelings that we bury deep down in our psyche, and how to access them.

3. Sport

Homs Equestrian Club

Marwa al-Sabouni’s horse Salah al-Din, a Syrian Arab.

I don’t go out much to busy places, and because of the war we don’t have many places to go. But I do go and ride every day at the equestrian club in Homs. My horse is called Salah al-Din. He’s a very strong horse from a special breed – Syrian Arab horses are among the best in the world for strength, endurance and performance. They are really smart animals and very independent and spirited, which is a humbling experience on a daily basis. The social aspect of the club is disastrous; it’s all about the horses.

4. TV

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

Dominique Fishback and Samuel L Jackson in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Photograph: TCD/DB/Alamy

Samuel L Jackson gives a phenomenal performance in this TV series. He plays an old man suffering from dementia who takes an experimental medicine that gains him a few days of lucidity. He uses those precious moments to access his memories and explain to himself the nightmares he had, which are related to racism. The show deals with different questions with great sensitivity, and in the end it’s about true friendship and genuine feelings. For me, it’s the story of the human mind and how precious this gift is.

5. Music

Georges Wassouf

Watch a video for Georges Wassouf’s Ya Al Zaman.

Georges Wassouf is from a rural area near Homs, but his career took off from Beirut. I just love his music – he has a poignant way of speaking about love and a fantastic way of bending the lyrics to express the music. It’s also lovely how his artistic character is so closely related to his real-life character. He’s a very accessible figure who lives among his people, and he didn’t change his lifestyle in a way that would separate him from his own small village. Ahla Ayam El Omr, which translates as Life’s Most Beautiful Days, is one of my favourite of his songs.

6. Restaurant

Naranj, Damascus

Naranj restaurant in Damascus. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

Homs restaurants are rubbish, but there are plenty of good ones in Damascus. The one that I really like is Naranj, in the old part of the city where the Muslim and the Christian quarters merge. The food is great and the menu is very much based on what’s in season. The breads come right out of the oven, hot and delicious, and I would recommend the lentil dish harrak isbao, which means “the one that burns your fingers” because it’s so delicious that you will dive straight in.

The Guardian

 

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

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Accepting industry money risks distorting research and allowing polluting firms to greenwash their reputations, says Zak Coleman. However before A fossil fuel divestment ‘how-to’, it is advisable not to overlook or ignore what has been said before now.

Fossil fuel research ties undermine universities’ climate change response

Zak Coleman

I became the University of Cambridge’s students’ union undergraduate president in the wake of the university’s historic decision to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. I felt hopeful. The university was waking up to the urgent need to combat the climate crisis. It finally understood the damaging consequences of lending its reputational legitimacy to the industry driving this emergency. 

Or so I thought. 

Working at the students’ union, I became increasingly aware that the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies extended far beyond its investments. The BP Institute and the professorship of complex physical systems sponsored by offshore drilling company Schlumberger are just two of the countless industry links that Cambridge retains. Everywhere I looked, I saw the university inviting the very same companies it had just condemned as unconscionable investments to be senior partners in its core research activities.

This felt like an enormous betrayal. Universities are supposed to be committed to supporting young people and our futures. But here was my university collaborating extensively with the companies destroying that future. 

But it’s not just the hypocrisy that concerns me. Universities’ research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry also undermine their ability to effectively address the climate emergency. 

Let’s be clear. Industry executives have known about the devastating climate impacts of their business for more than 50 years. Instead of acting on the science, however, they spent millions of pounds spreading climate disinformation and expanded their fossil fuel operations. They continue to engage in extensive anti-climate political lobbying and resolutely focus the overwhelming majority of their business on fossil fuels, including building new infrastructure and exploring for new reserves.  Meanwhile, the world’s top scientists and energy experts are clear that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid runaway climate breakdown. 

In contrast, universities like Cambridge are respected globally for upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity and intellectual rigour. Like it or not, partnerships between such higher education institutions and companies that have spent decades ignoring, silencing and discrediting these universities’ very own scientists are a PR gift for the fossil fuel industry. They allow these firms to misrepresent themselves as reformed leaders of the green transition. They send a clear message to governments, policymakers and wider civil society: if universities like Cambridge deem these companies serious on climate-related issues, why shouldn’t we? Ultimately, they help to stall desperately overdue political action to address the climate emergency.

Accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry also raises serious questions about researchers’ ability to conduct truly independent climate-related research. Academics must be free to determine their own research agendas, speak their minds and publish their findings without fear of censorship, reprisal or the denial of funding for future projects. Yet numerous studies demonstrate that industry funding skews research agendas and outcomes in directions favourable to industry interests, and that common safeguarding measures are often inadequate mitigation. This is why, for decades, research institutions have rejected tobacco industry funding for public health research. The same principle must be extended to fossil fuel funding of climate-related research. Independent climate research is just too important to tolerate such risks.

Governments and universities now have a profound responsibility to provide alternatives to industry funding. This is especially true for our wealthiest universities, which frequently accept the most fossil fuel research funding. Indeed, despite being Europe’s wealthiest university, Cambridge accepted more from oil companies between 2017 and 2021than all other UK universities bar one – Imperial College London.

Such universities have large, well-established fundraising departments capable of raising phenomenal sums. Philanthropic giving to US universities rose by 6.9 per cent in 2021 alone, topping $52 billion (£40 billion). The notion that there are no alternatives to fossil fuel industry funding is dangerously false.

Last month, more than 500 leading academics signed an open letter calling for universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry. Among those supporting the letter, which is still open for signatures, are Nobel Prize winners; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; and numerous scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We know the fossil fuel industry will continue to ignore the calls of these distinguished climate experts. But we expect better from our universities. Our planet is in ecological cardiac arrest, yet it is the fossil fuel industry that our universities are helping keep on life support. It is long past time for this to end.

Zak Coleman is undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students’ Union. Twitter: @SU_PresidentUG

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Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

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Cornell University in a research supported by Qatar Foundation concluded a study that holds that deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor. So what? Did we know that in the MENA region that is at more 90% desert?

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

By David Nutt 

Deserts may seem lifeless and inert, but they are very much alive. Sand dunes, in particular, grow and move – and according to a decades-long research project, they also breathe humid air.

The findings show for the first time how water vapor penetrates powders and grains, and could have wide-ranging applications far beyond the desert – in pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food processing, as well as planetary exploration.

The team’s paper, “Water Vapor Transport Across an Arid Sand Surface – Non-Linear Thermal Coupling, Wind-Driven Pore Advection, Subsurface Waves, and Exchange with the Atmospheric Boundary Layer,” published March 21 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface.

Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, pictured here in Qatar in 2012, has been using capacitance probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes since the early 2000s.

The project, led by lead author Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, has spanned not only a great deal of time but also a variety of terrain. It began nearly 40 years ago when Louge was studying the behavior of fluids, gasses and solid particles.

Wanting to measure matter with greater sensitivity, he and his students developed a new form of instrumentation called capacitance probes, which use multiple sensors to record everything from solid concentration to velocity to water content, all with unprecedented spatial resolution.

When a colleague at the University of Utah suggested the technology might be helpful in imaging the layers of mountain snowpacks and assessing the likelihood of avalanches, Louge went to his garage, grabbed some probes and tested them out in a snowstorm. Soon he struck up a partnership with a company, Capacitec Inc, to combine their respective skills in geometry and electronics. The resulting probes also proved useful in hydrology research.

In the early 2000s, Louge began collaborating with Ahmed Ould el-Moctar from University of Nantes, France, to use the probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes to better understand the process by which agricultural lands turn to desert – an interest that has only become more urgent with the rise of global climate change.

“The future of the Earth, if we continue this way, is a desert,” Louge said.

Whereas other probes can measure large volumes of matter, Louge’s probes go deep and small, collecting data on a millimetric scale to pinpoint the exact amount of moisture in – and the density of – sand. To function in a new environment, though, the probes needed to be modified. And so began a decadelong process of trial and error, as Louge made periodic trips to deserts in Qatar and Mauritania experimenting with different versions of the probe.

The probe eventually revealed just how porous sand is, with a tiny amount of air seeping through it. Previous research had hinted this type of seepage existed in sand dunes, but no one had been able to prove it until now.

“The wind flows over the dune and as a result creates imbalances in the local pressure, which literally forces air to go into the sand and out of the sand. So the sand is breathing, like an organism breathes,” Louge said.

That “breathing” is what allows microbes to persist deep inside hyper-arid sand dunes, despite the high temperature. For much of the last decade, Louge has been collaborating with Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study how microbes can help stabilize the dunes and prevent them from encroaching into roads and infrastructure.

Louge and his team also determined that desert surfaces exchange less moisture with the atmosphere than expected, and that water evaporation from individual sand grains behaves like a slow chemical reaction.

The bulk of their data was gathered in 2011, but it still took Louge and his collaborators another decade to make sense of some of the findings, such as identifying disturbances at the surface level that force evanescent, or nonlinear, waves of humidity to propagate downward through the dunes very quickly.

“We could have published the data 10 years ago to report the accuracy of our approach,” Louge said. “But it wasn’t satisfying until we understood what was going on. Nobody really had done anything like this before. This is the first time that such low levels of humidity could be measured.”

The researchers anticipate their probe will have a number of applications – from studying the way soils imbibe or drain water in agriculture, to calibrating satellite observations over deserts, to exploring extraterrestrial environments that may hold trace amounts of water. That wouldn’t be the first time Louge’s research made its way into space.

But perhaps the most immediate application is the detection of moisture contamination in pharmaceuticals. Since 2018, Louge has been collaborating with Merck to use the probes in continuous manufacturing, which is viewed as a faster, more efficient and less expensive system than batch manufacturing.

“If you want to do continuous manufacturing, you have to have probes that will allow you, as a function of time, and everywhere that’s important, to check that you have the right behavior of your process,” Louge said.

Co-authors include Ould el-Moctar; Jin Xu, Ph.D. ’14; and Alexandre Valance and Patrick Chasle with the University of Rennes, France.

The research was supported by the Qatar Foundation.

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How women in the Global South reclaim feminism

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Today, 8 March and the same day every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world, to commemorate those advances towards a gender-equal world – “free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination and one that is diverse, equitable, inclusive while differences are valued and celebrated.” How the same is celebrated in the MENA region is reviewed by Farah Daibes. It is about how women in the Global South reclaim their understanding of feminism in every corner of the region.

How women in the Global South reclaim feminism

Female empowerment in the Global South was co-opted by the Western neoliberal development. Now, women are reclaiming their understanding of feminism

In an apparent win for feminists from the Global South, the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action set a roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls globally. At the time, ‘empowerment’ was not the buzzword it is today, but a new concept brought forth by Indian feminist Gita Sen and a group of other feminist activists and scholars.

Sen and her colleagues stressed the importance of empowerment through a bottom-up approach that centres the voices of women from the Global South. When they advocated for the adoption of their definition of empowerment by the UN – and later on through the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing –, however, they were unaware that the definition would be remodelled and blurred over time: it was transformed from its original political understanding based on collective action, solidarity, agency, and decolonial development models into an individualised, depoliticised, and westernised concept.

The region (MENA) still suffers an 87.4 per cent gender gap in the political empowerment index and a 60 per cent gender gap in the economic empowerment index.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, this shift in understanding – which was championed by neoliberal aid and development programmes – had serious impacts on the shaping of women’s rights agendas and on the pace of advancement towards gender justice. But in recent years, more and more women across the MENA region are defying the mainstream empowerment narratives and are reclaiming the original understanding of what it means to be empowered.

Feminism from abroad

White-centred feminism has greatly influenced the development agendas of the international donor community, resulting in a context-blind and depoliticised approach to the empowerment of women and girls – one that conveniently ignores the role of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and racism in shaping the lives of black, brown, and Asian women across the Global South. This approach was supported by states in the MENA region that also aimed to build an understanding of empowerment that does not question current power relations, an empowerment that aligns with states’ interest in fostering politically passive populations who are driven by capitalist fantasies.

An ‘empowerment-lite’ was thus imposed in the MENA region under two distinct and docile categories. The first, ‘political empowerment’, was mostly limited to increasing the numbers of female voters and women in parliaments, with a disregard for many of the actual challenges that hinder women parliamentarians or voters’ meaningful engagement in the political process. The second, ‘economic empowerment’, was mostly related to increasing women’s formal participation in the labour market without truly addressing any structural barriers facing women when entering or staying in the market. For instance, this approach supported providing micro-funding for women to start their own businesses – placing risks on the shoulders of women rather than markets or states; and attaining gender parity within the (capitalist) workplace where many men already experience exploitative working conditions.

After decades of programmes and initiatives, even these inadequate empowerment goals are far from being achieved. The region still suffers an 87.4 per cent gender gap in the political empowerment index and a 60 per cent gender gap in the economic empowerment index according to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021.

No empowerment without redistribution of power

A decade of political and socio-economic instability has pushed women and feminists across the region to re-centre the redistribution of power within the empowerment conversation. Through reclaiming the feminist understanding of empowerment, they are actively and collectively fighting against the systems that have reduced their role in public life to the mere support of capitalist and authoritarian projects. These are the same systems that have allowed for the quality of education, health, social protection, and public services – which are essential components for truly empowering women and girls – to be diminished.

Woman from various backgrounds have been, and still are, on the frontlines of protests demanding gender and social justice in many countries in the region. In the past few months alone, Sudanese women have fiercely stood up against militarisation and sexual violence, holding tightly to the political gains they have so difficultly achieved alongside their fellow Sudanese citizens. In a smaller, but equally empowered, example, young Lebanese students in Tripoli defied the patriarchal system that silenced their attempts to call out a harassing teacher. They held protests and promised to press charges against him.

The white-centred, depoliticised, and capitalist image of an empowered woman is not accepted anymore as the only version of an unoppressed woman.

Tokenism in both the economic and political spheres is no longer enough to maintain the illusion that there is serious political will to empower women. When the first female prime minister in the region was appointed in September 2021 in Tunisia for instance, feminist activists and groups were hesitant to celebrate. They criticised the Tunisian President for using ‘the women’s card’ to advance his own agenda and to gain positive publicity and support from the West in a politically questionable situation.

The white-centred, depoliticised, and capitalist image of an empowered woman – one who is westernised, high-paid, fashionable, and independent – is not accepted anymore as the only version of an unoppressed woman. Women in the region are celebrating their uniqueness, differences, their cultural roots, and their sense of community and passion.

Feminist activists in particular are defying the white-centred feminism that have dominated the global feminist scene. They are changing the funding ecosystem that has limited their scope of work and are showcasing how feminists from the region are in fact equal partners in the quest for gender justice globally. This might be best illustrated through feminist author and activist Mona Eltahawy’s enraged refusal of the labelling of Egyptian feminist pioneer Nawal El Saadawi upon her death as ‘the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world’ by western media.

Power over our futures, our lives, and our bodies. This is the empowerment that women in the MENA region are striving for. They are demanding the serious support needed to truly empower all women and girls. But they are also finding their own forms of resistance and roads to empowerment with or without that support.

Farah Daibes is a Senior Programme Manager at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s Political Feminism programme in the MENA region.

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