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Renewing Canada’s IES - Thematic papers: Sustainability and climate change in international education

Published on March 1, 2023

Overview

Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Taking bold action on climate change - adaptation and mitigation, is a priority for the Canadian government. The Government of Canada is committed to taking urgent action to reduce emissions and build a more resilient, low-carbon economy, through investments in clean energy, clean technology, green infrastructure, and carbon pricing in an effort to meet our goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition, Canada has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development along with 192 other UN member states through which we have a responsibility to address the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including goal 13 on Climate Action.  

As the global climate crisis intensifies, there is a growing recognition that international education has an important role to play in helping to address the climate crisis. Given the urgency and importance of the issue, it is imperative that climate change and sustainability be addressed in the next iteration of Canada’s International Education Strategy. International education can be a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, and addressing this issue in our strategy can serve as a competitive advantage for Canada in the fight for talent. 

Current trends  

A few of Canada’s competitor countries have started to integrate climate change thinking and action into their national education strategies.  

In April 2022, the United Kingdom’s Department for Education released a policy paper on sustainability and climate change strategy in education which outlines several key initiatives, including building support for green skills education through scholarships, developing international partnerships between educational institutions in the UK and abroad; and selling exports of domestic education and training models, curricula and technologies related to sustainability.

In their international education strategy, New Zealand notes, “there are likely to be more students who want to reduce their air travel because of the impact it has on climate change” and states that they will be examining how online and offshore provision of education can address this. New Zealand’s strategy also presents the concept of developing “Global Citizens” who can tackle global issues such as climate change.  

France recently mandated that starting 2025 all students studying in French institutions at the bachelor’s level or any courses with two years of higher education, both domestic and international, will be obligated to take a course on climate change.  

Sustainability, climate change and Canada’s education strategy 

Integrating climate change and sustainability as one of the pillars of Canada’s international education strategy will make it a forward-looking, 21st century strategy and serve as a competitive advantage for Canada. Some possible elements that for the next iteration of the strategy include: 

International education can help to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts, as well as foster understanding and collaboration between different countries and cultures. It can also provide the necessary skills and knowledge to help develop solutions to the climate crisis. Canada can promote environmental and sustainable programs offered by Canadian institutions including a mapping exercise to produce a comprehensive list of all Canadian green, clean programs. By providing opportunities for students from climate-insecure countries to learn and grow their skills, share their experiences with Canadian students, and become advocates for Canada when they return home or become part of Canada’s solution rapidly growing green economy. 

International education can provide the necessary skills and knowledge needed for the green transition and for the green jobs of tomorrow. Estimates vary, but suggest that Canada could create between 300,000 and 500,000 jobs in the coming years as the country moves towards a low-carbon economy. These jobs will be in a variety of areas, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, green construction, green manufacturing, recycling, and sustainable agriculture. By promoting green programs and Canada’s cleantech sector through EduCanada digital marketing campaigns to prospective international students, we can further Canada’s long-term competitive advantage and contribute to building a highly skilled work force, something that will help Canadian companies succeed globally and promote greater investment into Canada. 

One other area of growing concern related to this issue are climate change related extreme events such as hurricanes, flooding, forest fires among others. Research from the Society for Research in Child Development states that students who experience climate shocks are more likely to experience lower academic performance. After natural disaster events, academic performance suffers due to displacement, loss, injury, or sickness. 

In the wake of recent natural disasters in Canada, such as Hurricane Fiona in 2022, international students came together to help their communities recover and manage impacts. While suffering the same negative impacts as Canadian students, international students have been ineligible for disaster relief at the federal and provincial levels, since they are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. International students should be included in future federal government relief programs to help them get back on their feet and continue with their academic programs.  

Finally, in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, it is important to be able to measure and quantify the underlying causes such as greenhouse gas emissions. Global Affairs Canada (GAC) is considering undertaking an environmental impact assessment to quantify the amount of emissions released by its international education sector. GAC intends to work closely with stakeholders and institutions to develop solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of the sector. Additionally, GAC can integrate elements of sustainability into its EduCanada pavilions at international education conferences.  

Questions 

  • What initiatives would you like to see included in the 2024 IES to address climate change and sustainability?
  • How can the Government of Canada work more closely with institutions to mitigate the impact of the sector on the climate including undertaking an environmental impact assessment? 
  • Should Canada undertake measures such as France in mandating a climate change course for all its post-secondary students (domestic and international)? 
  • Should educational institutions and international students be included in federal climate change resiliency programs?
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