Climate Change fight: The role of the universities
The issue of climate change is an important global problem and the ongoing 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) held in the Arab Republic of Egypt between November six and 18th, this year, is a testament to how important the issue is to the global community.
World leaders, including our President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of of Ghana, are attending this conference “with a view to building on previous successes and paving the way for future ambition to tackle the global challenge of climate change”.
Effects of global change
Ghana is already experiencing the negative effects of climate change manifesting in prolonged droughts, and heavy rains resulting in flooding than normally experienced in many parts of the country.
As has been pointed out by Professor Mark Appiah, President of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) College of Science and Technology (CCST), in an interview with Ghana News Agency, “Ghana will become hotter and drier and will also experience extreme events due to climate change”.
According to him, a newly released climate report on Ghana suggested that the changes in climatic conditions would negatively affect land, forests, and water resources.
He said climate change was already affecting the resources because “we see prolonged droughts and heavy flooding than normally experienced in many parts of the country”.
When it comes to the forest, Prof Appiah mentioned that biological diversity was being lost due to climate change and biodiversity loss was affecting the ability of the forest to supply forest goods and services.
Prof. Appiah, who is an Associate Professor of Tropical Forestry, said some forest tree species will start to survive better outside their normal growing range because trees go where they can survive better.
This means that, climate change will create new habitats for tree species and make existing habitats unsuitable.
When asked why tree species redistribution would be a problem, Prof. Appiah said tree redistribution was not necessarily a dreadful thing, but showed that there were some trees with small growing ranges, and those types of trees could go extinct.
He said the drought and dryer condition created by Climate change would create drier vegetation which will lead to an increase in the extent, intensity, and frequency of wildfires.
Outbreak of pests and diseases
Prof Appiah also said the outbreak of pest and diseases will also be a common occurrence because when trees are exposed to a drought or wildfire, they could become less resilient to pests and pathogens.
Many actions, according to Prof. Appiah, are needed, including actions that could be taken at both governmental and academic levels.
Prof. Appiah who placed much emphasis at the academic level, highlighted the role that universities like CCST, could play in addressing climate change.
He suggested that universities have a unique role to play in combating climate change.
One way, he said, was for the universities to form strong notational and international partnerships for research, and for the training of students in a way that enabled students to ask and answer important questions about climate change and ultimately making these answers available to influence decision-makers in the public and private sectors.
A second way to address climate change in Ghana is for universities to influence more discussions about climate change impact and adaptation going forward.
This would require the inclusion and updating of university curricula to ensure all graduates knew the risks of climate change and how to address them in their personal and professional lives.
Prof. Appiah cited for instance, that the CCST in partnership with the 13 Institutes of CSIR, was working with local, national and international institutions to find solutions to climate related issues facing Ghanaian industries, agriculture, forestry practice, and food security.
The University is also working with local communities to help plan climate change adaptation strategies particularly, in the agricultural sector.
Prof. Appiah said, CCST already included matters related to climate change within its teaching and research practices to prepare students and society to contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
On the specific mitigation actions that the universities could do to help avoid the increase of pollutant emissions, he said promoting the efficient use of energy as well as developing and promoting renewable energy technologies – Solar power, improved cooking stoves, biogas technology etc., were some measures to take
Actions for universities
In terms of adaptation to climate change, he said there were several actions that the universities could do to help reduce vulnerability to the consequences of climate change.
These include making scientific input to ongoing landscape restoration and reforestation, thus, promoting appropriate silvicultural practices, investigating and promoting enhanced nursery techniques, conducting provenance studies and promoting appropriate provenances for reforestation.
When asked if climate change should be compulsory at the university, he said yes, particularly for students on programmes normally taught under College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Art and Built Environment, College of Engineering and College of Science.
At the pre-tertiary level, Prof. Appiah said topics of climate change should be taught from a younger age at schools and recommended that Climate change should be a core subject from Junior High School level.
He said climate change education at universities was important because it could inspire and shape students to make informed climate related decisions in their careers and urged other higher education institutions in Ghana to find ways to include climate change related issues within its teaching and research practices.
By Kwabia Owusu-Mensah, GNA