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Editorial: Our climate is changing – so should we

by Tauri Kerr

The climate crisis is imminent, but university students are a huge part of the solution. We need to be the change that we want to see in the world.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which warns us that we need to implement a profound change to restrict global warming. Global warming is predicted to increase by 1,5°C above pre-industrial levels over the next two decades. In order to prevent further warming, this change needs to be transformational. In this case, transformational refers to a fundamental change in systems relevant to climate action. The IPCC defines a transformational change as “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems”. The report, mentioned above, was released on 28 February 2022 and it provides options for adaptation to climate change.

Universities should be at the forefront of this mission to implement a transformative change. The Vice-chancellor of USKAR (University Still Known as Rhodes), Dr Sizwe Mabizela, states, “As an institution whose core purpose is learning and the dissemination of knowledge, Rhodes University is well-positioned to contribute to the global project of pursuing sustainability.”

So, here is the burning question: How can universities contribute to transformational change?

The most important action, in my opinion, is to empower students, staff, and individuals to address the climate crisis. This is pertinent because we, as students, are the generation that holds the responsibility of fixing and changing the climate crisis. We are being moulded by the universities that we attend into being contributing figures of society and therefore, it would make sense that we should be educated on the climate crisis too. Regardless of the faculty that you are studying under, every single person can contribute – creating awareness, putting together petitions, devising projects that can alleviate the environmental stress that the planet is under, and the list goes on.

It is now time to take a more introspective approach to this issue – what is USKAR doing about the climate crisis?

For one, USKAR is a signatory of the Talloires Declaration which is an official statement of commitment to environmental sustainability that was signed by universities worldwide. They were also one of the first five South African universities to sign the declaration. Furthermore, they joined the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF) in 1996. This meant that USKAR had become a part of a diverse group of more than 500 institutions in over 50 countries that are committed to practicing and promoting environmental literacy.

USKAR has an environmental policy which is something that, I believe, all attending students should make themselves aware of. On the website it states, “Rhodes University recognises its integral relationship with the socio‐economic and biophysical environment, and that embracing sustainability as a critical focus of its operations and decision‐making as well as in teaching, research and community engagement, will improve human well‐being and environmental health within the university and in the broader community”. It further explains that the policy is reviewed as required by legislation, organisational changes, and other considerations, every five years. The policy is reviewed by the RUEC (Rhodes University Environmental Committee), and implementation is overseen by the Policy Implementation Working Group.

The university assures that the policy is continuously scrutinised, and it is a participatory process which involves staff and students. For those who are wondering, the policy directives are:

1. Sustainability Education and Research

2. Water Sustainability

3. Energy Sustainability

4. Sustainable Waste Management

5. Biodiversity

6. Sustainable Travel

7. Sustainable Procurement

8. Organisational Sustainability

It is safe to say that universities are making a concerted effort to push these policies and to partake in the transformative change that we are hoping for, but is it enough?

I was not aware of nearly half of this information, purely because I had never thought to look into the university’s involvement. However, I am pleasantly surprised at the proactivity that is taking place. On the other hand, I do believe that this kind of information and the ability to get involved with these projects should be more readily available. We should all be actively finding ways to contribute towards the transformative changes that need to happen in the very near future. We are the generation that can turn things around and I urge you to do so by actively looking for ways to get involved.

In the words of Greta Thunberg, “Homo Sapiens have not yet failed. Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands.”

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