Universities as “models of sustainability” can lead climate action

A panel of higher education experts, including University of Miami President Julio Frenk, shared insights on how universities can be leaders in addressing pressing societal issues, such as the pandemic and the climate crisis.

University of Miami President Julio Frenk and other university leaders explored how colleges can take bold and innovative action – just as they did during the pandemic – to address the climate crisis, as part of a panel discussion at the four-day Aspen Ideas: Climate Conference on Miami Beach.

To address the emergency of the pandemic, universities have stepped up research, innovation, testing, public health service delivery and other facets of their operations, and Tuesday’s session “Launching the Next Generation of Solutions: The Role of Higher Education in the Climate Crisis”, explored how this same bold and robust response could be sustained to address the climate crisis.

“Universities have a key and indispensable role [in addressing the climate crisis] by breaking down silos and building structures and procedures by which we produce an interdisciplinary problem-based approach to science education and research, an approach that expands research and inquiry around a problem,” said said Frenk, a global public health expert.

“This is an all-out effort, just as we have done and continue to do with the pandemic, and that’s exactly why we recently launched our Climate Resilience Academy,” Frenk noted. , who described this initiative as “a functional initiative”. unit intended to bring together all the assets that the U has been building for years and the future assets that we will develop around the issue of climate resilience.

Frenk appeared on the panel with Dan Porterfield, President and CEO, Aspen Institute; Wayne Frederick, President, Howard University; and Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College. The morning session held at the New World Center was moderated by Andre Dua of McKinsey & Company.

Frenk said when he came to the University in 2015, he was told on listening tours that climate change was the number one issue affecting the community.

“Obviously we are ground zero for so many of these issues – extreme heat and weather, sea level rise, flooding and more,” Frenk said. “And we must fulfill our unique institutional role of summoning and using reason and inquiry to help transform anger [that some people feel concerning the inadequate response] in constructive engagement.

The President highlighted the efforts of the Integrated Knowledge Lab (U-LINK), an academic funding mechanism that seeks to generate creative solutions that will thrive with additional funding from community partners. Most of the dozens of projects relate to climate change and resilience issues, he noted.

Pumariega, who through the community college system presides over about 120,000 students, urged universities to use the trust and leadership they enjoy to model what society can do.

“If you go back to the pandemic, at MDC we have vaccinated over 400,000 people. People ask how we did this, and it’s because of our trust factor in the community,” Pumariega said. “The climate has the same parallel, and we have to lead the same. We need to have the same kind of boldness that reduced the time working groups and committees used to meet from months to minutes.

Porterfield described the three institutions represented on the panel as “rockets” and highlighted the “authenticity” of their efforts to advance climate change research, understanding, education and action.

He noted that Miami Dade College was the recipient of the 2019 Aspen Award for Academic Excellence, national recognition of achievement and high performance among state colleges. He also highlighted the Aspen Institute’s partnership with the University of Miami through its American Talent Initiative, which brings together colleges and universities with the philanthropy and research communities to expand access and opportunities for talented low- and middle-income students.

Lisa Beal, professor of oceanography in the department of ocean science at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, wondered how universities could practice internally, on their campuses and in their operations, “what we’re asking society to do”.

“We must be models of sustainability,” said Frenk, “models of respectful debate and dialogue, and claim our fundamental institutional role as an indispensable launching pad for big ideas and cutting-edge research, as well as a place for the next generation to explore their roles in the world.

The annual Aspen Ideas Climate Conference, which ends Thursday, brings together inspiring leaders and thinkers from around the world to debate and discover solutions related to climate change.