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As the ongoing COP26 debates climate change, a look at why we need to establish climate schools across the country

 

Approximately 1,20,000 people globally, and less than 5,000 people in India, are formally trained to adequately cater to the $23 trillion global climate industry opportunities expected until 2030. India and Bangladesh together are expected to attract $ 2.5 trillion worth opportunities related to climate-resilient infrastructure. In India alone, there is a potential to create three million renewable energy jobs by 2030.

India is both a major greenhouse gas emitter and one of the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change. The need for research and education in this field is critical. Further, the reasons and consequences of the changing climate in India and some other developing economies are different from those of the rest of the world. This is why specialised climate studies programmes are important to train people to find and implement technical solutions to adapt to and mitigate climate change in India and other parts of the world. Hiring people with these skills will be crucial for companies, government, the scientific community in India and the world.

Ironically, climate studies is abysmally low in India. In fact, while a few leading international universities now offer undergraduate degrees in Climate Sciences, not a single university in India offers this. Currently, IISc Bengaluru offers M.Tech. and Ph.D. programmes in Climate Sciences besides conducting research at its Divecha Center for Climate Change. TERI, in New Delhi, offers a Master’s degree in Climate Science and Policy. IIT Mumbai runs an interdisciplinary programme in Climate Studies only at the doctoral level. IIT Hyderabad offers a few courses and electives related to climate change.

Thus, while the demand for climate studies is loud and clear, building the supply pipeline is the need of the hour. Establishing a full-fledged climate sciences school offering Bachelor’s, Master’s, and research programmes is an opportunity waiting to be taken up by Indian universities. Ideally such a school would need to be a transdisciplinary institution that offers various programmes in climate studies and conducts advanced research on climate solutions working with its host university’s other schools for Engineering, Architecture, Arts, Social Sciences, Management, Law, Public Policy, Communications, and other fields. It should host doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and faculty members from around the world, who wish to pursue research in climate studies related to India. It should build partnerships across universities and companies around the world, and in India, for those pursuing research or implementing new technologies to adapt to or mitigate climate change, besides working closely with the government for its evolving climate policy.

First, such a school would leverage the first-mover advantage in attracting students to climate studies. Traditionally, in India, the bulk of university admissions demand already comes for undergraduate studies across most subjects. Further, given that entry-level jobs in climate action are aplenty in the country with hardly any takers, offering an undergraduate degree in climate studies is a win-win for the university, students and the ecosystem.

Next, India’s current formal education system does not offer a mandatory understanding of our changing climate and ways to mitigate or adapt to it. For the most part, neither in school nor at university are we taught to understand carbon footprint, waste, energy, hazardous and non-hazardous materials and ways to manage them. It is a Herculean task to even search for ways to learn basic skills for greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting or scientific ways to conduct simple impact assessments. Even in business schools, sustainability is at best often an optional subject. Therefore, the current generation of executives have mostly missed the bus on learning about climate. This is also why an executive education program offering short-term certificate courses in climate studies could be another option.

Finally, during the pandemic, we have witnessed the consequences of unpreparedness for disaster. There is also a co-related surge of talent across different sectors moving towards disaster mitigation of all sorts. This is truly an opportune time for universities to establish a climate school and attract this talent towards averting more disasters that await us because of our changing climate.

The number of private universities in India have jumped to 407 in 2019-20 from 276 in 2015-16, with each trying to differentiate itself from the rest. Establishing a climate school would be a much-needed and attractive opportunity.

The writer is CEO, Sustain Labs, and Director, Anant Fellowship for Climate Action.