Climate change discourse: Academia must come to the party

Opinion & Analysis
Tertiary institutions were mandated to come up with outcomes-focussed national development activities towards a competitive, modern and industrialised Zimbabwe through problem-solving for value-addition.

BY Cliff Chiduku IN 2020, government, through the Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development ministry, introduced Education 5.0, to tackle problems bedevilling the country.

Tertiary institutions were mandated to come up with outcomes-focussed national development activities towards a competitive, modern and industrialised Zimbabwe through problem-solving for value-addition.

Universities’ mandate of teaching, research and community service was revised to align it to the national ambition to attain an upper middle income status by year 2030.

Education 5.0 demands higher and tertiary institutions to not only teach, research and serve the community, but to innovate and industrialise and find solutions to problems afflicting the country.

State universities, by their nature and character, are better positioned to grasp and decipher the threatening disruptive technologies such as the internet, advanced robotics and the automation of knowledge work that continue to reshape the global socio-economic landscape.

By combining critical thinking, creative thinking, innovativeness and an entrepreneurial mindset, these institutions can provide socio-economy-impacting solutions.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented climate change problem that is threatening humanity and urgent steps are needed to arrest this scourge.

While Africa has insignificantly contributed to the climate change problem, the continent remains highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions such as cyclone-induced droughts and floods.

Zimbabwe has not been spared. The situation has been exacerbated by poverty and limited communities’ adaptive capability.

Naturally, it becomes the duty of all stakeholders among them ministries, parastatals, private sector, civil society organisations, development partners, faith-based organisations and academia to play a part towards achieving A Climate Resilient and Low Carbon Zimbabwe. Climate change is a wicked problem, it needs a collaborative approach.

Academia can play a vital role in shaping society’s mindest on this critical issue. It produces knowledge through research, trains policymakers and contributes to public awareness on climate change.

But it seems the academia is not rising to the climate change challenge. Efforts to integrate sustainable development into local universities’ curricula and their community engagement processes leave a lot to be desired.

Climate change is a complex and politicised global issue which needs informed leadership. It is incumbent upon the academia to identify and provide research-based solutions.

It can be said that Zimbabwe has, for unknown reasons, neglected the idea of integrating climate change into its education system. This casual approach to climate change has been disastrous as it has been evident by lack of practical implementation of policy interventions to the climate change problem.

The Bindura University of Science Education is one university that offers a degree programme specifically on climate change. Other universities have environmental science, geography and agriculture which have incorporated climate-related modules into their programmes.

It is hoped that such programmes will seriously delve into climate change issues. If they are found wanting, this will limit Zimbabwe’s climate change mitigation and adaptation response capacity.

The academia should build a knowledge body which informs climate change policies, actions and practices. Responses could include mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

Since climate change has led to unreliable rainfall patterns and weather-related natural disasters, the academia should be seized with creating a market of ideas on climate change. This should be informed by local contexts and leveraging on traditional knowledge systems.

It seems there is a knowledge gap in Zimbabwe. This can be attributed to an academia that has gone to sleep.

Policymakers are not receiving enough guidance from the academia to help them to appropriately respond to the impacts of climate change. This is because the academia is not producing outputs, such as research that broadly guides society.

In November 2017, Zimbabwe came up with an elaborate national climate policy that sought to create pathways towards a climate resilient and low carbon development economy in which people have enough adaptive capacity and continue to develop in harmony with the environment.

The policy aims to support the national climate change response strategy, national adaption plan, low carbon development strategy, national environmental policy, renewable energy policy and the forestry policy, among other policies and strategies aimed at achieving sustainable development.

On education, training and awareness, the national climate policy proposes the “development of curricula that mainstream climate change knowledge in the specific learning context or disciplines for primary, secondary and tertiary education”.

It is, therefore, clear that the policy recognises the potential of universities and colleges in tackling climate change issues through teaching, research and community service. But local universities still lag behind in coming up with or adopting policies to guide climate action at institutional levels.

Academic institutions can also take a lead in the migration from non-renewable to green energy. Often times, the University of Zimbabwe has been forced to abandon some of its projects or resort to generators because of load-shedding. Why not take a lead in the adoption of clean energy, just like what their peers in the region are doing.

The Strathmore University and Kenyatta University in Kenya have led the way in the green revolution in east Africa. They have the largest solar installations in the region. They generate 600KW and 100KW of solar power, respectively.

Universities should be more sensitive to national policies. Government needs to clarify the role universities should play in the governance of climate change affairs. And it should provide related research funding.

Increased financing, which has been cited as an impediment to research initiatives, will enable the academia to incorporate climate change activities central to its curricula, activities, institutional and community engagement work.

The Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education should also include climate action as a criterion in evaluating university programmes. This would motivate action.

As long as the academia remains on sabbatical on climate change issues, it would be near impossible for Zimbabwe to manage social, economic and environmental risks arising from climate change impacts. It is unlikely that Zimbabwe will attain its Vision 2030 and sustainable development goals.

Food for thought!

  • Cliff Chiduku is a journalist based in Harare. He can be contacted on +263775716517, Email: [email protected] or on Twitter @ChifChiduku.

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