Student Voice

UN Climate Change Conference: Education for the Future with Dr. Deborah Morrison 

It’s a sunny day in Bonn, Germany, where national delegations, international agencies, NGOs, and other climate-related groups have come together. I found myself immersed in a sea of high-level climate change negotiations, events, and experts at the UN Climate Change Conference, the SB 56. 

World Conference Center, Bonn, after the SB 56 conference 

Among them, I met Dr. Deborah Morrison, Elected Council Member of Climate Education at ECOS (Education, Climate, and Outreach Stakeholders community of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change), who is currently working on the intersection of justice, learning design, and climate, trying to think about how we mobilise our society towards climate action. 

Q: I would like to learn a bit more about your work at ACE on justice, learning design, and climate. How do you think that these fit into the curriculum of higher education? 

A: Sustainable development is a really good framework for thinking about climate justice and climate learning broadly everywhere, around broad areas, but it is also a nice framework to break it down into manageable bites. At this point in our history of humanity on Earth, every single area of government, learning, higher education, etc. should be connected to Sustainable Development Goals in their work because everybody should be working towards that future. That is our map for a sustainable future. If we can’t identify what our work is doing towards that map, then, why are we doing it? So absolutely, people should be connected to it. The challenge we face is how we even support faculty to even note that it exists, and how to connect it to their work. 

Q: It is a learning process that we are having at university, and it is very interesting to embed sustainable development in the curriculum. But, somehow, we struggle sometimes given the fact that there are so many faculties, so many different degrees and disciplines. How would you integrate these? 

A: We require universities to include things like gender and sexuality awareness. It is part of our job and must be done at a certain time. The same should be true for integrating sustainable development; it should be a requirement of your job to take a course, (e.g., every year) to understand this and how to integrate this. And then the university should provide learning opportunities to stain it 

Sustainable development should be a requirement of your job to take a course like every year understand this understanding how you know to integrate it and then the university should provide sustained learning opportunities and iterative learning opportunities for the faculty to work in different units. So, maybe, the faculty of Science gets together and they show what they’re doing like a couple of people demonstrate how they’re doing it and then others have to take a task and go do something in their class anything doesn’t have to be the entire curriculum to begin with: just something to start with. Then they have to come back next month and show what they did.  

Having accountable measurable ways of iterating new designs and curricula is going to be the fastest but you have to require it of your faculty, and you have to provide support and time for them to do it. For example, having small conceptual groups, people who are in similar workalike positions doing things together learning from each other and just learning as much we can; sharing ideas. Nobody has this all worked out pretty much emerging as we go. We just need to do it as fast as possible constantly learning from each other. 

Q:  That relates a lot to the element of interdisciplinarity. It makes it even more complex when we talk about gender equality, climate change, or other SDGs like water, energy, inequalities, peace and justice. Some disciplines might tailor some of them, however, there is not that much collaboration between schools, departments, and faculties. How important do you think that it is to link these types together and make a more holistic approach towards education? 

A: I think it is [very important]! Universities are wonderful in that sense, as you basically have every SDG operating somewhere in the university. What you need is every semester, for these groups to work on their new ideas of “how to implement this new curriculum” to come together and cross-share. That cross-fertilization of ideas where the faculties are learning together supported by the university to do that type of shared learning will come together and will be taken back to their units. 

Maybe they even invite speakers they build relationships with people in other departments so maybe ethnic studies build a relationship with chemistry, and then the chemistry department invites international studies people in to talk to them and think with them. They can be their critical friend about how they might integrate aspects of Peace and Justice into the work that they are doing. That’s the way we really move the work because we start to respect and trust the opinions of others that are very different than us, either intellectually or value-based or physically. It’s building those relationships across those boundaries that really helps us think differently and it changed the way we act. 

Q: That is a great explanation. Would you like to share any other messages? 

A: One thing we didn’t talk about that I do think is important: when we have conversations like this, they are ephemeral, so it doesn’t necessarily hold us to be accountable and so we have to build in structures of “I’m going to see you next month”. And when I see you next month I have to be sharing. That’s my accountability to do something in that intervening month. I have to build in support so tools so if I did something and I learn something I have to write like a one or two-page brief or a blog post or something that I can put back into the world of the community that I’m working with other people can use it when they have time to think. Therefore, it’s not so out there in the ether it’s actually concrete, and we can use it as a tool. That type of tools and resources is a concrete pillar of doing this work related to sustainable justice and ACE (Action for Climate Empowerment). 

Carlos Shanka (left) and Deborah Morrison (right) at the SB 56 conference in Bonn 

The University of Bristol has done great efforts to embed Sustainable Development in the curriculum, but there remain several barriers to overcome for an effective pedagogic framework to build a sustainable future. Usually, the answer that I receive from experts like Deborah is to harness the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ interdisciplinary potential and “break it down into manageable bites”, as well as establish stronger intra-institutional connections, dialogues, and meetings for sharing good practice. 

With my time as a BILT Student Fellow coming to an end, I cannot emphasise enough the need to strengthen cross-faculty collaboration, integrate regular capacity-building schemes for educators, and empower students to work as co-designers of their own curriculum, meeting our demands to build a more resilient and just future for all. 

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