From the 16th to the 20th of November 2020, the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) held its annual conference on the climate and ecological emergency. I was lucky to attend some of the workshops which I found very insightful. Here are some reflections on that experience.
Due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19 this year, the conference was held virtually. The virtual experience however did not impact the quality of the conference. Academics and leading experts in sustainability from different parts of the world were available to offer practical solutions to the climate emergency, and to offer support and knowledge to students and future generations to help deliver change.
A key and stand out moment for me during the conference was a keynote talk on the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign partly delivered by Professor Izael Pereira Da Silva of Strathmore University in Kenya. Professor Da Silva’s innovation, influence, resilience and ‘no talk action only’ attitude was striking. This I believe, is a key trait needed in the addressing and tackling climate change. To give a bit of context, the Race to Zero campaign is a global campaign to rally leadership and support businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy resilient zero carbon recovery, that prevents future threats and creates decent jobs whilst unlocking sustainable growth. The campaign works in partnership with COP26 (The United Nations Climate Change Conference) with a shared aim of reaching net zero carbon emissions by the year 2030 or latest 2050. Although difficult, it is definitely not unachievable. All countries and individuals have to do is to make simple changes. Professor Da Silva shared his experiences of working with students in a small university called Strathmore, and their ability to make substantial changes not only for the students themselves, but also the Kenyan society.
Working with the Kenyan Green Uni Network, Da Silva stressed the importance of getting the youths and students engaged in the fight for climate change. This he argued can help save the planet and also improve their lives. Using his knowledge and experience in power systems engineering, he created the Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) where he was able to train students from different backgrounds such as Literature, Law, Politics, and the Sciences in the practical skills needed to help the environment and reduce carbon emissions. For instance, with collaborative effort, they were able move away from traditional energy sources and created solar energy systems on six different buildings of Strathmore university. As a result, Strathmore is currently the only university in the Sub-Saharan African region that has zero carbon emission levels. This idea of moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and wave energy has been put forward and sold to the Kenyan government. The government has heavily invested in this idea amongst others pitched by SERC to tackle energy poverty in Kenya, and also reduce its carbon emissions.
Students have thus been urged to come up with income generating and sustainable energy ideas, which they sell to the government in return for revenue. Da Silva stressed that achieving such goals did not come without struggles. Such struggles can put individuals off however, one was must never give up. Such attitudes he argues has led to people adopting what he called the ‘NATO’ trait (no action talk only trait), meaning that individuals talk about the effects of climate change and what we should do to tackle them, however, do not implement these ideas or take action. What struck me even more about Da Silva was his trust in young people and pushing their ideas and innovations to come to life. Afterall, young people of this generation and the ones to come will have to deal with the dire challenges that will occur if a firm stance is not taken on climate change. He argued that young people have the power as they are savvy with technology and social media. This alone gives them a platform to share their ideas, and creations across the world and create an impact. Therefore, key institutions in society such as universities need to increase their support for young people and give them the platform to implement their ideas.
What I gained from the session was if you have knowledge, utilise it! Do your research and pitch your ideas even if you are afraid of the roadblocks that may arise. You benefit and the world benefits thus ensuring sustainability for all.
by Kumba Krubally, SGO Projects Officer #BAMEProjects