COP 28 – London universities driving global climate change action: a case study from Middlesex University

This blog has been contributed by Professor Sean Wellington, Interim Vice-Chancellor at Middlesex University.

Middlesex University is a global, connected university with three international campuses in London, Dubai and Mauritius. With regional offices across the globe and 140 nationalities represented at our London campus, Middlesex is one of the world’s most international universities. This global outlook underpins everything we do: teaching, research and our engagement with partners, stakeholders and policy makers.

With global challenges, such as climate change, universities are well-placed to use their insight and expertise to play a leadership role in influencing positive change. Middlesex University’s ten-year strategy has a vision of putting knowledge into action to create a future that is fairer, healthier and more sustainable. For many London Higher members, contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is embedded in the teaching, research and day to day operations of their university. Students receive training at universities to implement environmental projects while studying and beyond once they graduate.

For Middlesex, the SDGs underpin our Strategy to 2031 and in 2021/22 over 15% of our research output related to one or more of the goals: from exploring how tampons shed nanoplastics into the body to highlighting gender inequality and violence towards women in sport; or from expanding windfarm energy to benefit local communities to highlighting mental health issues in Indonesia and Ghana. All Middlesex courses include teaching and learning on SDG issues to ensure our graduates acquire sustainable development skills and a global outlook. Postgraduate students from London regularly visit our Mauritius campus to collaborate on biodiversity research. Students put knowledge into action by finding ways to conserve wildlife on the island, supported by the local Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Students in Dubai are also involved in ‘Sowing Seeds’ working with the local creative and business community to learn about sustainable choices in the process of design and consumption of fashion. In London, Middlesex is running BarNet Zero with the London Borough of Barnet to develop practical, local solutions for reducing carbon emissions. Students and residents share their ideas in exchange for mentorship and funding to get them off the ground.

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) taking place in Dubai over the coming weeks represents a critical moment in climate action. Middlesex’s leadership role at the conference demonstrates the impact of higher education in the global policy arena. On 05 December, Middlesex University Dubai will host the COP 28 Climate Law and Governance Day 2023 International Symposium. This influential conference is co-hosted by the Climate Law and Governance Initiative at Middlesex University Dubai and the University of Cambridge with academic, industry and government partners from across the globe. It will bring together COP delegates, observers and stakeholders, researchers, students, legal practitioners, industry leaders and government representatives to share knowledge and expertise to mobilise the international community on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Focussing on the role of technology and innovation, inclusion, front-line communities and finance, the event will help develop a legal framework for the Paris Agreement on limiting global temperature increase.

This collaboration with other global universities, experts and policy makers within the intergovernmental COP process also enriches student experience. Students develop the skillset and outlook to influence and act on the social challenges facing the world. This active teaching approach is all about adding value to students and helping them to make a difference in the world. We do the students a great disservice if we provide a narrow skillset for employment. The world of work is changing at pace and our students need the skills to adapt, be resilient and be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow and the challenges ahead.

Sustainability and climate change are international priority areas for UK Government, whose vision is for the UK education sector to be world-leading in this domain by 2030. The Department for Education thankfully recognises the vital role that the education sector has to play in supporting young people to have the skills to tackle this crisis, through their International Education Strategy and their Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. With our universities and colleges bursting at the seams with academics and students passionate about sharing their knowledge and ideas, now is most certainly the time that the UK Government harnesses the full power of our higher education sector to help the UK and the world achieve our climate change ambitions, and make the world a better place.