Calls on universities and academics to lead climate fight

Universities in Cameroon and in Africa, in general, have been enjoined to lead in the global action to fight climate change. Considered vital hubs of research and teaching, their role in driving solutions to climate change on the continent is key, academics say.

At the official opening ceremony of the 2023-24 higher education school year on 4 October at Cameroon’s University of Buea (UB), students, lecturers and other higher education stakeholders were challenged to lead in the fight against climate change that is continuing to wreak havoc in Cameroon, in particular, and in the rest of Africa.

In the keynote address, Professor Roland Ndip, renowned microbiologist and dean of the faculty of science at UB, urged higher education institutions, especially universities, to rise to the challenge.

Ndip called on universities to make practical changes in the way their institutions are run, driving climate-friendly activities and actions like switching to greener energy output, encouraging sustainable habits in staff and students on campus, working closely with other stakeholders in promoting research, and formulating results-oriented climate change policies.

Climate change in all programmes

He noted that climate change should be part of all department programmes in universities to increase students’ awareness, the implications for research and policy formulation that will act as a catalyst for a real, lasting change in the fight against climate change and dousing its impact on society.

“Our universities must make the commitment to engage with their communities, policymakers and other stakeholders to drive actions and solutions to the fight against climate change,” Ndip said.

Professor Horace Ngomo Manga, the vice-chancellor of UB, said at the opening event that universities have the challenging role of educating the younger generation for Africa to succeed in the climate change drive.

“Even more important is their role to work with and encourage private-sector investments, continue to search for research solutions, and reinforce communication on alert systems as provided by meteorological institutions in the country, among others,” he said.

Raising awareness is key

In the face of recent devastating climate change effects in Cameroon, academics say the call is timely.

“Universities in Africa are still lagging behind as far as science and technology are concerned. We have to set up in this global fight by improving our industrial and research capacities,” Dr Nick Ngwanyam, founder and CEO of the St Louis University Institute in Cameroon, told University World News.

He added that one of the key solutions to the climate change drive is sensitisation to raise awareness for effective behaviour change, emphasising the need for continuous capacity-building of the different stakeholders.

“But we have to build the capacities of our university intellectuals first on the issues at stake; the students, researchers, lecturers and scientists have to increasingly gain knowledge to better drive solutions,” he said.

Transformation is crucial

According to the 2022 UNESCO report, Knowledge-Driven Actions: Transforming higher education for global sustainability, the Global Independent Expert Group on the Universities and the 2030 Agenda has called on higher education institutions to take on a stronger role in tackling the world’s most pressing issues as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report emphasises the key role these institutions can play in contributing to the SDGs and directs attention to the systemic barriers that have inhibited transformation in some key areas.

The report quotes César Guadalupe, senior lecturer and researcher at the University of the Pacific in Lima, Peru, who underscores “the need to shake up the way we have been used to doing things in higher education”, calling on higher education leaders and actors to reflect on their role in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The UN’s SDG 13 calls on every individual, institution and country to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Floods, landslides hit hard

Deadly landslides and flash floods triggered by heavy rains have been recurrent in Cameroon in the past two years, ReliefWeb reported on 5 April 2023. On 18 March and 5 April, the university town of Buea experienced two devastating floods and landslides with dozens of buildings and homes damaged, leaving many families homeless. Two people reportedly died and several others were injured.

The coastal city of Limbe was also hit by two landslides and floods within a week in April 2023. Five people were killed, and extensive damage was reported. In November 2022, 14 people attending a funeral were killed by a landslide in the capital city, Yaoundé. On 8 October 2023, Yaoundé witnessed one of the worst landslides and flooding ever. At least 30 people died, and 25 houses were swept away.

Environment experts say the recent heavy rains have made many cities in Cameroon among the wettest in Africa.

According to Professor Amougou Joseph Armathé, director general of Cameroon’s National Observatory on Climate Change (NOCC), there is a need for stronger collaboration among the stakeholders in the fight against climate change. Universities in Cameroon, he said, have been collaborating closely with the NOCC, but efforts need to be intensified for more research to find innovative solutions.

“We need to work together to generate new ideas on how best to tackle climate change,” he told University World News. He expressed the wish of his institution to embrace all approaches and proposals from university experts, including students, to improve on the work of the NOCC.

Collaboration encouraged

The NOCC is a governmental structure responsible for monitoring and evaluating the socio-economic and environmental impact of climate change in the country. Working in collaboration with other stakeholders, including universities, it proposes measures to prevent, alleviate and help communities adapt to the adverse effects and hazards related to climate change.

“We look forward to working more intensely with the different university experts this academic year,” Amougou said.

The new academic year started on 4 October 2023 and ends on 24 July 2024, according to a statement signed by Jacques Fame Ndongo, the minister of higher education.

The document provides details of how all universities in Cameroon will function for the current academic year. It also provides details on effective class teaching, exams, publication of results, outdoor activities like the university games, and holiday periods to be respected by all higher education institutions in the country.