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Environment: Towards a New Generation of Climate-Conscious Global Leaders

Sciences Po, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and the University of Guelph have been working over the past year to establish a framework for cross-cultural learning and exchange on climate change and environmental issues. The overall goal of this developing partnership is to shape a new generation of environmentally-conscious global leaders and citizens, to make positive impact through policy and community engagement.

The launching conference, held at Sciences Po on 7-8 November 2023, brought the initial inception phase of this partnership to a conclusion. Through roundtables and a plenary panel discussion, participants addressed the challenges facing different dimensions of the Climate Transitions. Together they acknowledged the complexity of the climate crisis and the imperative for an interdisciplinary cooperation that considers technology deployment, policy comparison and the strength of empowering youth. 

Climate & Development

The opening roundtable navigated the multifaceted intersection of climate change and development with the expert perspectives of Pierre Charbonnier from Sciences Po (Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics - CEE), Milind Kandlikar from UBC, and Madhul Anand from University of Guelph.

Their conversation highlighted the dynamic between environmental variables and human responses, emphasising the poly-characterised nature of systemic change. They also underlined the importance of understanding human behaviour and the need to establish institutions that guide informed choices for a sustainable future. They questioned the scope of the transition - is it just about reducing carbon footprints, or visualising a more equitable world? They challenged future change-makers to shape the evolving story of climate change and development.

Urban Climate Transitions

The second roundtable started with the University of Toronto’s Gabriel Eidelmann demonstrating the transformative role that cities can play on a metropolitan scale in establishing a distinct urban voice.

Anouk Constantin and Vinìcious Paul, two Sciences Po students explained how their Pour le Brésil initiative is working to empower youth and female leadership in the Brazilian Amazon; a natural region which also has an urban dimension. The initiative’s focus on building capacity of young people is already shaping the local climate agenda.

Charlotte Halpern from Sciences Po (researcher at the CEE and director of the Institute for Environmental Transformations) explained that whilst cities are very capable in developing beautiful local climate targets, these often have little policy impact and limited success in being delivered.

Together the speakers advocated for cities to take a lead in climate transitions, emphasising the need for a multi-level governance approach whereby cities do not just set goals and targets, but actively engage in strategic planning, align with broader societal objectives, and foster inclusive, social-driven decision-making processes.

Climate & Energy Transitions

The Climate and Energy Transitions session, featuring Divya Reddy from the International Energy Agency, Sciences Po’s European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition Marc Ringel, along with Eleanor Morrison and Giacomo Luciani from Sciences Po's Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), revealed striking similarities and differences between Canada’s and the EU’s pursuit of decarbonisation objectives as part of their ongoing energy transitions. Both regions employ common policy instruments such as emissions trading schemes and carbon taxation, yet they diverge in energy security dynamics.

As panelists and students considered the difficulties of policy development to enable a smooth energy transition, the conversation revealed the need to learn from comparing national policy approaches. They remarked on the importance of navigating the structural changes and hardships, innate in the journey to net-zero emissions.

Climate & Community-Based Local Solutions

The fourth roundtable shed light on the intersection of sustainability policies and local communities’ perspectives on climate impacts, including the importance of integrating local and indigenous voices into sustainability and climate discussions.

Diana Lewis from University of Guelph and IndigenERA Lab, Sébastien Treyer from IDDRI, and Pia Bailleul, a Bruno Latour Fund postdoc from Sciences Po's Centre for International Studies (CERI), collectively provided insight into the effects of the European Green Deal on Greenland’s extractive industries, the challenges faced by communities from the Amazon and the Artic in having their voices reflected in policies, and how companies fail to appropriately consider local populations. 

The roundtable offered students valuable insights for addressing sustainability, indigenous knowledge, and policy development.

Plenary Panel Discussion: Addressing the Challenges of Climate Transitions

The final Plenary Panel drew upon the findings of the four roundtables before delving into the multifaceted aspects of environmental matters. Panelists highlighted various entry points spanning policy, institutions, and technology. They agreed on the importance of acknowledging differences in institutional capacities across member states and the need for effective cooperation between different governance levels. They also argued that indigenous voices are needed to develop a human-centric perspective about the full impacts on climate policies.

There was broad agreement that climate education requires the creativity of younger generations, bridge-building between students, researchers, and policymakers, and a sense of hope. Some final reflections regarding systemic change, addressing entrenched industries, and re-evaluating assumptions about growth were shared. A clear message was sent for students to empower themselves and use their voices in climate initiatives everywhere.

This conference was made possible by funding from the DRG Foundation.