I have spent much of the last three years talking to people who work in international education about the need to cut down how much they travel because of the damage that flying does to the environment …. I suppose the lesson here is to be careful what you wish for as the COVID-19 crisis bites and forces much of the planet into lockdown.
The coronavirus pandemic is understandably absorbing everyone’s attention right now but unfortunately, the underlying problem of climate change has not gone away. Maybe, just maybe though, this strange new world we have entered offers us a new window of hope for how we might resolve it.
But first, let me go back to the beginning to talk about how global student mobility contributes to the climate crisis and then how the international education sector might serve as a catalyst for positive action.
The Scale Of The Climate Challenge
The world has warmed by roughly 1°C since the time of the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century because of human activity. This temperature rise is already causing stronger storms, more erratic weather, dangerous heatwaves, longer droughts and extended fire seasons. At even a 1.5°C temperature rise – the lower end of the Paris Agreement targets – this trend will intensify and be accompanied by large-scale disruption to climate systems, infrastructure and migration patterns.
If we stay on our current emissions trajectory, we will see warming of more than 4°C by the end of this century which would mean that many major cities in India and parts of the Middle East would literally become lethal on some days due to extreme temperatures and heatwaves (Mani M, et al. 2018), and whole regions of Africa, Australia and the United States, as well as parts of Asia and South America would be uninhabitable as a result of direct heat, desertification or flooding.
We still have a little time – around 10 years – to prevent such a catastrophic outcome according to the UN report (IPCC 2018). To do this, the 15 largest economies must cut their carbon-dioxide emissions in half over the next four decades. The scale of that task is immense, however.
According to Vox Magazine in 2014,
“to put that in perspective global emissions declined by just 1 percent in the year after the 2008 financial crisis, during a brutal recession when factories and buildings around the world were idling. to stay below 2°c, we may have to triple that pace of cuts, and sustain it year after year.’’
The COVID-19 situation means we have to update this current picture as normal life has closed down for a staggeringly large part of the world’s population. This has pressed pause on our greenhouse gas emissions which up until the pandemic had still been rising.
So, we have a little room to breathe, and a chance to reflect on how the world works and how we might perhaps remake it a little differently once the current threat of the virus has passed.
Ailsa Lamont, Director and Founder at Pomegranate Global and Co-Founder of CANIE: Climate Action Network for International Educators.