Climate Change Impacts on Tertiary Education - Reflecting on the Impressions Project

Rebecca, our Scotland Programme Manager, shares her experiences and reflections on a project she has been involved with examining the likely impacts of climate change on Scotland and across Europe, and potential responses to them.
 

I spent several days last week in Hungary, participating in the final stakeholder workshop for the EU funded Impressions Project. The four year project brought together a team of researchers and facilitators to explore "high end climate change" scenarios (greater than 2°C) to advance understanding of the implications this would have on Europe and help decision-makers use that knowledge when developing integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies. The work has involved a “stakeholder group” of decision-makers with a good understanding of their own region and interest in climate change impacts. I have been involved as a Scottish stakeholder, with my focus on further and higher education as well as wider sustainability engagement.
 
The project examines the implications of climate change on Europe through a series of case studies on different scales, with the four same scenarios (in terms of carbon intensity of society and level of inequality) explored in three regions: Scotland, Iberia and Hungary; Europe as a whole; and central Asia (to consider the external impacts on Europe in a globalised world). The stakeholder group for each region has met several times to develop:

  • A vision for the region in 2100

  • Four likely scenarios given the prescribed carbon intensity and level of inequality, considering how they will impact given the geographical and socio-political context

  • Pathways that the region would likely take over time to get to that scenario

  • How to bring the pathway closer to the ideal vision - what do we need to do now to make climate change less devastating in each region.

This final session brought some stakeholders from all the regions together to consider what was shared between the scenarios which had been developed, and what need to be the key priorities across Europe to increase our resilience in the face of climate change. We also went on a boat trip to visit a local Hungarian adaptation project, and had a tasting of the wines Scotland in 2100 given expected climate change impacts – but those are stories for another day!
 
The Impressions project will be completed later this year, with publication of a wide ranges of reports aimed at different audiences, as well as direct engagement with decision-makers at the European level.
 
Personally, Impressions has been a fascinating project to be part of. The scenarios have been eye opening, considering the massive societal transformations likely to be forced upon us by climate change and its impacts on weather and the socio-political systems we rely on. Many of these impacts are likely to happen in my lifetime, and we need to ensure we start preparing now to ensure that we go down the path of least inequality – and less carbon intensity if we want to limit the challenge – as well as increase our resilience to external shocks.

The project and engagement with the other stakeholder groups and scenarios has led me to a few key realisations about Scotland:

  1. Scotland is doing pretty well in comparison to other regions in having the government-funded project Adaptation Scotland supporting all sorts of organisations to take action to increase their resilience to climate change.

  2. However, climate change is a global issue. Unless we plan to become entirely self sufficient and close our borders then that preparedness pales into insignificance. We need to support and encourage other parts of the world to progress their adaptation journey, and consider our risks and opportunities on a global scale. Water exportation, anyone?!


The project, and this final workshop in particular, has also led me to a greater understanding of the vital role that needs to be played by Universities and Colleges:

  1. Looking internally, climate change is going to be major problem for us, over the lifetime of existing buildings, energy systems, and those in senior leadership positions now. We cannot wait to start to plan for these impacts on our estates, and on our business models, if we want to avoid large risks and impacts on business continuity later. The EAUC have a current project exploring this, which you can find out more about here.

  2. Research on all aspects of climate change – likely impacts, ways to engage others, policy options etc. – is vital. We need more interdisciplinary research in this area, and with many excellent research institutions in the UK (including University of Edinburgh and Cranfield University, who were part of this project alongside other research institutes) we have the potential to contribute a great deal to addressing the challenges in the UK and beyond.

  3. The biggest impact universities and colleges have over the long terms is through the skills, knowledge and values their students learn through their courses and more informal channels. Every young graduate now will have to deal with the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on their lives and work, and their education should prepare them for this. Every student leaving a university or college without an understanding of what climate change is, how it is relevant to their core learning, and how their everyday choices matter in the shift to a low carbon world, had been failed by their institution. 


Being part of the Impressions project has reinforced for me that we aren't talking some technological tinkering around the edges for the UK to survive climate change and come out thriving. We do need the technology – but we also need society to change. For that we need politicians, scientists, lawyers, journalists, and every other professional who makes decisions or engages with others to understand and take into account the long-term risks and opportunities of climate change. We need people who make choices about the products they use - from an individual carpenter or hairdresser or jeweller to the purchasing manager from a global firm - who get it. And we need citizens who understand the challenge and why their actions matter, and demand more from companies and decision-makers.
 
Education at all levels, for all ages, was fundamental in all the scenarios and case studies in moving closer to our visions of having a country, Europe, and world with a decent standard of living and less inequality, given the impacts of climate change. Universities and colleges have an important role to play, and with carbon concentrations in the atmosphere continuing to rise in a way that is likely to take us beyond the 2°C threshold there isn't any time to lose.
 
You can read more about the project on the Impressions website.

Impressions Project
Impressions Project

4 Scenarios for each Region
4 Scenarios for each Region