As a leader in higher education, you can inspire your campus to chart a new course on climate.


What the Paris Climate Agreement Means for Higher Ed

By Sharon Chen
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The Paris climate talks are being hailed as a historic turning point for our world; after two weeks of negotiations, 195 countries have agreed on the necessity of addressing our climate challenge. Most notably, these countries have pledged to curb carbon emissions; invest in clean energy and other climate-adaptive measures; and aid the world’s most vulnerable nations from climatic risks. While challenges remain, these are significant steps in our journey to a more sustainable world.

How can higher ed ensure that the momentum from the climate talks continues? How can our colleges and universities work to guarantee that the climate agreement is truly transformational?

The takeaway from the climate agreement is that the world is headed in a new direction, and this is one that higher ed can lead on.

1. Higher ed is an incubator for models of sustainability. Cities and municipalities can take the innovations pioneered by higher ed and apply them on a larger scale. This applies especially to clean energy; many college campuses are phasing out fossil fuels and making significant headway in carbon neutrality and clean energy. By continuing to innovate and lead on clean energy technology, higher ed can contribute much to the world’s elimination of fossil fuels and help ensure the Paris climate agreement is effective.

2. Higher ed harnesses the power of participation. From divestment campaigns to student-led sustainability initiatives to transforming business practices, college students are among the most passionate and vocal supporters of a more sustainable world. These are the leaders of tomorrow – the ones for whom COP 21 is a foundation for future climate action. By encouraging our college students to continue to think about the wider world in which we live, and to approach science and the humanities with an eye for sustainability, higher ed is ensuring that future generations will lead on climate action. Students show that together, we can effect real change.

3. Higher ed is on the frontlines of understanding climate change and how this affects our world. Now, more than ever, higher ed needs to communicate these issues effectively. The more people understand that reduced emissions and clean energy are the paths to an environmentally viable future, the more that these goals will be realized. The Paris climate agreement has given corporations and governments great responsibility in meeting reduced emissions targets, and by showing that they wholly support clean energy, people are conveying dedication to sustainability, encouraging its spread, and holding corporations and governments accountable to the climate agreement goals. Higher ed needs to communicate the necessity of clean energy, the risks of continuing on a fossil fuel-dependent path, and ways that we can work towards green solutions. 

COP 21 was important for its unprecedented agreement on the need for sustainability, and we cannot lose the urgency and momentum that infused the climate talks. The real work begins now, and together we can all ensure that the Paris climate pledges are truly transformational.