Climate accord helps universities turn goals into action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, published in April 2022, re-emphasises the urgency of decisive climate action to avoid the likelihood of some of the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

In addition to most countries, a number of sectors and organisations have started taking action. In recent years the international education sector has also started discussing its own obligations and opportunities in this regard.

We know from research that the carbon footprint of the international education sector is significant, but the sector also has a number of opportunities to incentivise others to reduce their carbon footprint.

CANIE Accord

One of the most recent and exciting examples is the new climate action accord released by the Climate Action Network for International Educators (CANIE). CANIE is a grassroots initiative formed by international education practitioners across the globe to raise the sector’s collective climate awareness and ambition.

The CANIE Accord, also released in April 2022, calls on international education providers and other relevant stakeholders, such as membership associations, government agencies and conference organisers, to commit to meaningful, comprehensive and ambitious climate action.

The CANIE Accord is the result of extensive consultation and research which kicked off with the inaugural international education Leaders Forum held in November 2021 in parallel with COP26 in Glasgow. Fifty-seven leading bodies and leaders across the sector participated in the forum to collaborate and discuss how the sector could contribute to the fight against climate change.

The key discussion points were summarised and used as the basis for the CANIE Accord and the related CANIE Glasgow COP26 paper. Before being published, both documents were reviewed and critiqued by the Leaders Forum participants and CANIE’s global network of international education practitioners.

The signatories of the CANIE Accord agree to pursue science-based climate goals, acknowledge the environmental costs of international education and emphasise the importance of climate justice in their solutions.

The accord’s key principles include the need to take immediate action to decarbonise operations, to collaborate in order to enhance climate education opportunities and an emphasis on the importance of considering justice and human rights when assessing suitable solutions.

Seventy concrete actions

The CANIE Accord is applicable to the whole of the international education sector, and heads of institutions, associations and departments are invited to sign on behalf of their organisations and units. The accord contains 70 concrete actions, each falling into one of three levels of ambition (basic, better and best).

The climate actions are aimed at reducing emissions from international education operations and activities while supporting continued student mobility.

All signatories commit to at least five actions, choosing the extent of their initial commitment. Signatories are encouraged to commit to the highest level of ambition and the different levels make joining feasible to a wide range of organisations at all stages of their climate action journeys.

The CANIE Accord comprises five broad categories of action: leadership and influencing, emissions accounting and reduction; travel; facilities, operations and procurement; and climate education.

First, the leadership section asks international educators to use their influence and reach to change practices within and beyond their own organisations.

Second, signatories need to measure and report their carbon footprints as well as set emission reduction targets.

Third, related to the previous goal, special attention needs to be placed on the strategic evaluation of when and where travel can be justified vis-à-vis the acquired benefits. International educators are also encouraged to increasingly consider alternative internationalisation modes, such as virtual mobility and transnational education.

Fourth, international educators should focus on reducing other organisational emissions, such as those originating from buildings, shipping and printing. Moreover, emissions should be part of any procurement criteria, enhancing practices in the supply chain as well.

Finally, international educators need to consider the ways in which they can provide opportunities for climate education for students, staff and other stakeholders.

Translating goals into action

CANIE is currently developing a series of events and online modules to accompany the CANIE Accord to support practitioners to translate its goals into action.

A recent report by Universities UK highlights how many universities in the United Kingdom recognise the importance of climate action and have linked, or are planning to link, their international and sustainability strategies.

Many survey respondents reported having introduced policies or practices that help reduce travel-related emissions.

The results are promising and indicate that parts of the sector are becoming more active and strategic when it comes to climate action. However, as the climate crisis becomes increasingly dire, there remains a lot of work to activate all international education providers globally.

As the first mechanism designed to move the sector in that direction, the CANIE Accord is putting climate action squarely on the international education agenda.

Dr Adrienne Fusek is based in San Diego, California, and is the lead author of CANIE’s Glasgow Paper and the CANIE Accord. Adrienne is a member of CANIE’s global board. Dr Pii-Tuulia Nikula is a principal academic at the Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand. Most of her research focuses on organisational climate mitigation and wider sustainability questions within the international education sector. Pii-Tuulia is also a co-founder and a board member of CANIE. Ailsa Lamont is the director of Pomegranate Global, a company based in Melbourne, Australia, which specialises in climate action training, strategy and programmes for the international education sector. Ailsa is a co-founder and current president of CANIE.