Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?
Considering Sweden’s Klimatramverket - ‘Climate Framework’ for Higher Education Institutions
By Ulrika Fløisdorf
“Before higher education can genuinely contribute to sustainable development, it must transform itself” (People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education, Rio+20, 2012, p.3).
This blog considers Sweden’s 2020 Klimatramverket - Climate Framework - and asks whether universities can become part of the solution to the climate crisis. It argues that while the Climate Framework has great strengths in addressing the impact of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) on society in a more holistic way, the indicators and reporting measures to assess how far universities are meeting the ambitious goals of the Climate Framework will be essential.
In 2018, on the initiative of Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, two working groups were formed to push the universities to bring the climate question to a new level. Their collaboration resulted in what now is known as Klimatramverket - Climate Framework - which was presented in its final form in the spring of 2020. This ambitious plan aims to involve as many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as possible to transform them into more sustainable actors and reduce direct emissions.
As a place of research, teaching, innovation and knowledge production, HEIs have a central role to play in the effort to combat climate change. Enabling the international goal of the UN's 2030 Agenda, as well as Sweden's national target in its 2018 Climate Policy Framework, HEIs have a responsibility to contribute not only through climate research and mitigating their emissions, but also by rethinking their role as a moral authority in society. This aspect of a moral framing and behavioral changes are addressed in the Climate Framework by not only focusing on activities with a direct climate impact such as business trips, commuting trips to and from work, food and food services, energy consumption, operation of property portfolio, research and education activities, property portfolio and new construction and rebuilds, waste management, purchasing of goods and services, investments and carbon sinks, but also focusing and engaging in indirect climate impact activities such as education, research, students, external engagement and societal impacts (Climate Framework, 2020, 5). This is very much in line with Article 12 of the Paris Agreement where HEIs are required to “enhance climate change education, training, public participants and public access to information” (UNFCC, 2015). Such an embodiment of HEIs is considered necessary (Filho et al., 2018) to enable a more constructive approach when grappling with questions related to climate change.
Today there are 37 Swedish HEIs which have committed to the Climate Framework. The affiliated HEIs can collaborate with each other when having common challenges and form working groups as well as engage in common proposals for indicators and measures. In line with national and international commitments the signatories have committed to implement measures striving for the 1.5°C target by the year of 2030. As each university is unique and has its own prerequisites, and as universities are not context neutral, the signatories themselves choose what kind of measures they wish to implement at their institution to reduce their climate impact. The strategy to have each institution choosing its own targets, as well as developing its own climate strategy, is one of the key factors for making staff and students motivated and engaged in taking action in the climate challenge. By having the Vice-Chancellors signing the Climate Framework, each institution undertakes to do the following:
We will through education, research and external engagement help society as a whole to achieve set targets.
We will work to reduce our own climate impact in line with society´s commitments as expressed in national and international agreements.
We will, based on our HEI-specific conditions, set up far-reaching targets for climate-related work and also allocate resources so that we can achieve these targets and conduct follow-ups.
We will clearly communicate our climate-related work in order to inspire and spread knowledge to other organisations and members of society.
In addition to signing the framework, the affiliated HEIs meet on a regular basis to find inspiration from each other, discussing their efforts and progress towards a reduced climate impact. In order to assess the implemented measures, they are required to report on their CO2 emissions in percentage terms. The process of reporting to the Climate Framework as well as a mutual way to calculate CO2 emissions in each key area is not yet fully developed but is in process, and will be an important mechanism to hold these institutions to account. A second key area that will have deep impact, through both knowledge and attitudes, is education itself. The Climate Framework calls for interdisciplinary collaboration and more systematic work to integrate climate and sustainability issues into study programmes, as well as staff recruitment and training, but here too criteria and indicators have not yet been developed to monitor and evaluate these efforts.
The Climate Framework is a very ambitious plan for the HEIs to achieve a concrete effect to battle climate change. In order to contribute to a reduced climate impact, they need to transform to become more sustainable actors and rethink their structure as a whole to be able to reach the 1.5°C target by 2030. It will be vital to see if the HEIs of Sweden will be able to “walk the talk” and achieve their individual goals of the Climate Framework in the years to come. Initiatives such as the Climate Framework are crucial to succeed for the HEIs to become a part of the solution rather being part of the problem.
Ulrika is a MA student of Anthropology of Education and Globalisation at University of Aarhus, Denmark. Her MA research focuses on internationalisation practises in HEIs in Denmark during COVID-19, and is affiliated with the project Geographies of Internationalisation, @GeoInt_ led by associate professor Hanne Kirstine Adriansen.