Students want HE institutions to wake up to climate change

Students who are members of the Climate Students Movement (CSM) have been working across country and regional borders to create awareness about climate change, in particular during April, which they observe as Sustainability Month.

The movement mobilises student groups and organisations to push higher education institutions to become ‘brave climate leaders’ in societies and play prominent roles in limiting global warming to 1.5°C as contained in the Paris Agreement.

It also supports the establishment of climate students’ groups at local and national level and organises virtual meetings and conferences for members across the globe.

CSM campaigns have ranged from a focus on fossil-free careers in the United Kingdom (UK) to planting trees in communities experiencing climate change in Nigeria and Uganda – activities which students are hoping will persuade leaders and environmental activists to work together for the sake of sustainable development and offer climate solutions to minimise their carbon footprint and prevent further harm to the planet’s natural resources.

CSM as a global network was officially launched in Sweden in 2020 and has teams in 13 other countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Philippines, Singapore, Colombia, Finland, Singapore, Malta and Brazil.

The CSM’s co-chairperson, Isha Singh, told University World News the club’s global operations are classified into three activity categories: forming a network of members to learn from one another, support each other, and share ideas; organising an #ActOnYourClimateScience campaign to set up and train campaign coordinators in different countries to engage with their higher education institutions and encourage these institutions to sign the CSM’s student climate framework, as well as hosting external activities to inspire action and motivate students worldwide.

So far, this year [2023], we’ve been working on these three operations. For our membership, we’ve been engaging in small group meetings with them to better understand their needs and improve our member engagement to best serve our members,” she said.

CMS also conducts sessions on event management and communication.


Adamu Mohammed, Nigeria’s CSM founder, who led the team until his graduation from the Taraba State University in 2022, said the movement embarks on periodic sensitisation on and off the campus and partners with stakeholders to reduce carbon emission.

“In 2021, we planted 700 trees of different species on the campus and at selected secondary schools and the College of Nursing in Taraba State,” he told University World News.

Mohammed said the project was funded by the state ministry of environment and through donations from individuals and organisations.

From three students at its inception in 2021, the movement now has about 30 members on the campus as well as volunteers from communities around the university who join the team in its annual activities such as World Environment Day, World Sanitation Day and World Cleanup Day.

“Our target is to spread the movement to many higher education institutions across Nigeria. The protracted ASUU [Academic Staff Union of Universities] strike last year [2022] was a huge setback, but my successor will pick up where I stopped,” the founder said.

Mohammed’s successor, Anas Hamza Lanko, promised that the movement will consolidate its tree-planting project and sensitisation programmes in the coming months.

“Our target this year is to visit more secondary schools to sensitise pupils and plant 1,000 trees on the campus and other parts of the state. We began to strategise on the tree planting when the university resumed from the election break on March 14.

“We are trying to build connections with students in other universities and higher education institutions. We also go out to do advocacy on climate change, telling people that climate change is real. We meet with our international body virtually every month to share ideas,” he added.

Beyond the campus

Mohammed currently lives in Jigawa State where he undergoes his one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps, a national scheme designed for new graduates to render public service and unite with people from different cultural backgrounds.

He told University World News that he mobilises corps members (or graduates participating in the scheme), who are environmentally conscious, to organise climate awareness programmes in some secondary schools in the state.

“We visit secondary schools to sensitise students about climate change as part of our community development service. We have visited about six schools so far, and the pupils embraced the idea.

“In January 2023, our CDS activities on climate action were held at the Government Day Secondary School, Achilafiya in Yankwashi local government area of Jigawa State, where we sensitised students about reducing, recycling and reusing approaches to plastics in our environment,” he explained.

Expert adviser

Dr Vincent Ojeh, the movement’s adviser and climatologist at the geography department of the Taraba State University, said he decided to work with the team because its goals align with his.

He said: “The CSM tries to champion youth involvement in climate-change mitigation, adaptation and education. It is more of a catch-them-young initiative in terms of climate-change education.

“Adamu and other students brought me in as their adviser because climate change is my area of specialisation. I take students out to different locations, including companies and plantations, to show them how they are being affected by climate change.

“So, when I saw a group of students trying to champion the same cause within the university, I was glad and I have attended webinars organised by the movement internationally. Climate education is something we need to teach everybody about.”

Ojeh says that, during international events on the environment, he goes out with the team members to clean up streets.

“We also organised training on climate change. We planted trees [in gardens] and named the gardens after some prominent individuals in the state such as the governor, his wife, the speaker of the house of assembly (the state law-making body) to ensure the sustainability of the trees. I’m happy that the trees are growing well,” the lecturer told University World News.

Club activities elsewhere

Kibet Hillary, the CSM’s leader in Kenya, said the club is set to launch #BinGoGreen as part of its activities to mark April as sustainability month.

Hillary said the template for the club's #BinGoGreen programme includes a talk by an expert about sustainability, attending at least one sustainability month event, reading a book or article about sustainability, recycling and helping households to be more sustainable, among others.

“We want to encourage people worldwide to hold on to hope, take action, and make changes, no matter how small. You can be part of sustainability month by helping to promote and spread the initiative on your social media, and showcasing yourself by completing the challenge,” he said.

In Uganda, a local climate organisation, Greenlyf Network, which is also a member of the CSM, is out “to champion university and school-based climate action aimed at greening the environment and building climate-resilient societies and future”.

The Uganda team, by December 2022, had planted more than 400 trees of different species, including medicinal, indigenous and food trees in the Gomba district “to address the food security crisis that is as a result of the climate crisis or drought, heat stress, change in rainfall patterns and floods”.

“The earlier we act, the better for us who are living now, and the future generation,” the team added.

In the United Kingdom, the Environmental Community of Durham University (Eco DU), also a member of the CSM, is “aiming to push for a greener university at the systemic level”.

In 2022, Eco DU campaigned for fossil-free careers, “a student-led initiative aims to dismantle the recruitment pipeline from UK universities into the industries most responsible for the climate and ecological crisis: oil, gas and mining companies”.

So far, the team said, eight student unions, including Oxford and Edinburgh, have passed a motion to endorse the fossil-free careers campaign, while Birkbeck University of London has introduced an ethical career policy.

Climate change and the role of HEIs

In a context in which the effect of climate change on societies across the world is becoming clearer, CSM maintains that universities and other tertiary institutions have crucial roles to play in noting that “we need higher education institutions to act now”.

“At the moment, less than 3% of the world’s higher education institutions have pledged net zero targets. To limit warming to 1.5°C we need 10,000s of higher education institutions [HEIs] to wake up in order to give climate science its much-needed credibility to be followed by society,” it added.

Ojeh, who is working with the Nigerian student club of the CSM, corroborated the movement’s position, saying universities need to have a robust climate-change education embedded in their curricula.

“Any environment-related courses should have a component that has to do with climate change. Climate change education should also be taught in secondary school for a start, and later included in the elementary school curriculum,” he added.