Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

Anthropogenic climate change is an emergent and pressing concern, and its impacts will extend into the future (Hansen, 2009; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013). Nation states are beginning to address climate change despite considerable cultural inertia and political resistance (McCright & Dunlap, 2011; Norgaard, 2011; Oreskes & Conway, 2010). As part of these circumstances and responses, educational institutions are adapting to and mitigating, where possible, the present and emerging realities of climate change. This paper examines these processes via a systematic analysis of institutional policies in the Canadian postsecondary education (PSE) system.

Educational institutions have an important role to play in addressing the challenge, for they are charged with preparing students to deal with uncertain present and future socioecological conditions (Curren, 2009; Orr, 2004). They are also significant economic, social, cultural, and ecological actors. How they constitute their physical infrastructure, curriculum, research, and outreach priorities impacts the material and social dynamics of both their local communities and the larger systems within which they interact (Moran, 2010). Changing institutional policy and practice to address climate change has implications on multiple levels, from teaching and student outcomes to tangible material impacts on the ecological and economic conditions of the institution and the surrounding communities and land (Sterling, 2004; Tuck, McKenzie, & McCoy, 2014).

Systematic analyses of climate-focused education policies and practices remain sparse, as mitigating climate change is a relatively recent institutional phenomenon, and educational institutions are only beginning to modify their institutional policies and practices (Colston & Ivey, 2015; Plutzer et al., 2016). In this paper, we document how the Canadian PSE system is evolving to engage new climate realities. In particular, we are interested in how institutions are responding in the following five domains: governance (e.g., institutional priorities, values, and proclamations); education (e.g., curriculum, pedagogy); campus operations (e.g., reducing emissions from campus buildings, transit, etc.); research (i.e., on climate issues and related energy issues); community outreach (e.g., with students, staff, and the off-campus community on climate change). We provide an overview of the types of response to climate change suggested in analyzed policy documents with respect to their relative degrees of attention to these five domains of education policy (Figure 1).

This research also contributes to the broader research theme of sustainability in formal education, investigated by the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN).1 SEPN was created in 2012 to provide pan-Canadian documentation and analysis of sustainability and climate-related educational policies and practices from early childhood education through to postsecondary education. To date, analyses have been completed of quantitative and qualitative data gathered from all 220 accredited institutions in Canada (e.g., Aikens, McKenzie, & Vaughter, 2016; Beveridge, McKenzie, Vaughter, & Wright, 2015; McKenzie, Bieler, & McNeil, 2015; Vaughter, McKenzie, Lidstone, & Wright, 2016). While existing analyses focus on sustainability more broadly, this paper offers an analysis of climate change-specific policies from a representative sample of 50 Canadian institutions.2 Climate change-specific policies analyzed include climate action plans, emissions reduction plans, energy consumption plans, subsections of broader sustainability policies, and official administrative proclamations on sustainability and climate change (hereafter referred to collectively as "policies"). We also note where climate change is mentioned in institutions' overall strategic plans or other high-level policy documents by looking for the presence of the terms "climate change" or "greenhouse gas emissions" in the highestlevel strategic plan of each institution included in the sample. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.