Boosting university's role in tackling climate change

To counter the negative impact of climate change in North Africa, several higher education initiatives and scientific programmes are producing scientific workforces with the required skills, as well as carrying out research for promoting renewable energy for sustainable development.

The North Africa region is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of its geographic and ecological features. The situation is aggravated by the interaction of multiple economic and social sources of stress and further compounded by a low adaptive capacity.

Model projections indicate a clear rise in temperature over the next 20 years and this is expected to continue throughout the 21st century, probably at a rate higher than the estimated global average, according to a recent report, North Africa: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030.

Simulations also suggest a drying trend, particularly along the Mediterranean coast, driven by large decreases in summertime rainfall. Because coastal areas historically receive by far the largest amount of rainfall in North Africa, future decreases will likely have a significant and noticeable impact, the report says.

Given the ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of the southern Mediterranean countries, the effect of climate change may be more marked than in other regions of the world. The most significant factors are likely to include water resources stress, agriculture, migration, natural disasters, energy and tourism.

"Most of the predicted impacts in the region are already occurring regardless of climate change, for example, water stress and desertification. Climate change is expected to exacerbate these trends," the report says.

Green universities

Only three universities in North Africa were ranked out of 301 participating higher education institutions located in 49 countries in the 2013 UI GreenMetric World University Ranking for their sustainability initiatives. These were the American University in Cairo (101) and Kafrelsheikh University in Egypt (130), along with Cadi Ayyad University in Morocco (284).

Launched in 2010 in response to the absence of sustainability criteria from existing university rankings bodies, the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking reflects the efforts made by participating institutions to implement environmentally friendly policies and programmes to reduce their carbon emissions and to help combat global climate change.

The criteria include baseline information such as the size of the university, spatially and in terms of population, the campus location and the amount of green space; and also information on energy use, transport, water use and recycling and waste treatment, along with efforts being made by the institution towards establishing green policies and management and education programmes.

Teaching and research programmes

To deal with climate change challenges, North African countries have hosted several regional initiatives including the following:
    The Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences, or PAUWES, at Algeria’s University of Tlemcen, contributes to the development of higher education and sustainable development in Africa.

    PAUWES offers two world-class graduate programmes, a master of science in water and an MSc in energy, as well as providing training programmes for top students to become engineers and policy analysts, able to address Africa’s most pressing development challenges.

    The Desertec University Network is an integrated concept which includes energy security and climate protection, as well as drinking water production, socio-economic development, security policy and international cooperation. It focuses on generating sufficient clean power in the world's deserts to supply mankind with enough electricity on a sustainable basis.

    The Desertec University Network is formed around 20 universities in North Africa and the Middle East and is aimed at the development of know-how and the implementation of programmes related to renewable energy. Among the first steps are plans for tertiary-level degrees in renewable energy to be made available at local universities along with training technical personnel.

    The Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, or RCREEE, is the first regional centre of excellence for capacity building in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Middle East and North Africa.

    The centre carries out research and studies on renewable energy resource assessment as well as demonstration, testing and evaluation of different technologies focusing on solar and wind. It also provides consultancy services, promotes knowledge and technology transfer as well as providing training programmes for scientific and technical manpower to settle renewable energy technologies in Egypt and other Middle Eastern and North African countries.

    In addition, the centre focuses on promoting renewable energy technologies through direct contact with research centres in Europe and takes part in formulating policies related to renewable energy.

Expert's views

Manar Sabry, an Egyptian higher education expert at the US State University of New York says climate change is a real threat for the North African countries. Sabry says higher education institutions have an important role to play in reducing the risk of these changes.

"The first role that universities can play is to establish specialised research centres to study the impact of climate change at the regional, global and local levels. This may include studying the expected impacts of climate change and the risks associated with it,” he says.

"These centres should also bring university professors and form multidisciplinary committees to draft applicable policies, taking into consideration the legal, technical and financial aspects, and the like, that would help prevent further deterioration."

Sabry says universities should design courses to educate new generations about the issue including the risks of climate change, methods to face it, and adaptation to climate change. At the local level, universities have a responsibility to educate the public and the local communities about the causes, solutions and adaptation measures.

"In short, universities can take a leadership role as well as being a role model in this regard by actively studying, researching and implementing sound solutions that would consider the financial and legal components as well as the technical ones," he says.

A Libyan higher education expert, Amal Rhema, who lectures at the Aljabal Algharbi University and at Victoria University in Australia, says higher education institutions have good practical, financial, academic and moral reasons to try to reduce the impacts of climate change.

"I would suggest that universities in the North Africa region should work hard at reducing the carbon impact of their campuses, and exercise moral leadership in the fight against climate change," Rhema says. "They can benefit from other successful initiatives and experiences in developed countries, which can serve as a powerful example for those institutions that follow their strategies for confronting the negative impact of climate change."

He says North African universities should participate in research and innovation for promoting sustainable development, and ensure provision of a safe, equitable and prosperous future for their students and communities.

Way forward

With last month’s creation of the Africa Climate Change Fund by the African Development Bank in Tunis, African universities and research centres have the opportunity to enhance their scientific, teaching and training programmes.

These include support for adaptation and mitigation projects, knowledge management and information sharing related to climate change; and capacity building, recruitment of national and international consultants; as well as training and consultation workshops, and regional and international meetings.