What New Zealand can learn and teach about climate change


Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of this generation, but slowing global warming will require a huge global effort. International students in New Zealand bring with them important knowledge and help spread climate knowledge widely.

This content was created in paid partnership with Education New Zealand.

For nearly a century, climate change has contributed to unimaginable natural disasters, loss of life, land and resources. From New Zealand, it’s not a long trip to see some of the countries that are losing land to the sea at drastic rates; Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are all shrinking due to rising sea levels. Climate change is a problem that the authority on the matter says can only be solved by putting everyone on the bridge.

It’s no wonder, then, that New Zealand climate change researchers are banding together, sharing expertise and partnering with overseas experts – through multinational programs, research collaborations and a new transdisciplinary degree on climate change – to ensure that our future is sustainable.

International students who come to New Zealand contribute enormously to sharing the knowledge needed to tackle climate change, bringing with them expertise that helps our local efforts. And through these students, our own climate experts are also sharing their knowledge with the world.

(Illustration: Pablo Espinosa)

Crossing borders

“We want to show that even if people come from different countries, they can collaborate, especially when there are similar problems”, explains Hélène Eunson. She runs the Winds of Change program for Latin American Centers of Excellence in Asia-Pacific and the University of Otago – a program that brings together postgraduate students from New Zealand and Chile to work on issues of change. climate – with a team of academics led by an associate. Professor Chris Moy.

Each year, Winds of Change selects around 30 students to participate in its program, which includes workshops, a project assignment and a final symposium where participants present their innovative ideas for tackling climate change. “We provide participants with a little more knowledge and a lot more connections,” says Eunson.

Chilean-born New Zealander Javiera Otero is one of the students who have brought their international knowledge of climate change to New Zealand for the Winds of Change programme.

Otero and his team, made up of two geologists and a glaciologist, wanted to understand the effects of tourism on retreating glaciers and find a way to mitigate its impact. Glaciers are a big tourist attraction in Chile and New Zealand, but they’re shrinking as the earth warms – with big consequences not only for the planet but also for local communities who depend on glaciers for drinking water. and businesses that need these natural wonders to attract visitors. in.

The team created a website called The Nice tourist which provides visitors to Aotearoa and Chile with easy-to-understand information about the science of climate change and glaciers, as well as tips for reducing their impact.

What they learned was surprising: it’s not so much the walking on the glaciers that has a big impact, it’s the journey to and from the glacier sites. “Climate change [has] greatest impact on glaciers. Glacier tourism is minimal when compared to gas emissions, high temperatures and the use of fossil fuels,” says Heather Purdie, a glaciologist at the University of Canterbury, who consulted with Otero and her team.

Based on advice from experts like Purdie, the Otero team encourages visitors to Aotearoa to slow down, stay a few nights and spend time in the communities around the glaciers. It benefits the community and businesses and can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to Purdie and Parsons, the Otero team consulted with other academic and government experts and contacted tour operators near the Franz Joseph and Marinelli glaciers, community groups and iwi. “For us, it’s [was the chance] to give every stakeholder an opportunity to share,” says Otero.

But it’s a two-way street, Eunson points out. “We are learning from each other,” she says, adding that New Zealand can learn a lot from Chile about dealing with water scarcity.

The biggest problem, and a good one to have, with Winds of Change right now is that there are more eager and talented applicants than they can handle.

Eunson says the Asia-Pacific Centers of Excellence – which is funded by the government through the Higher Education Commission to use academic expertise and academic networks – is looking to expand the program to accommodate more people. from more countries. Ultimately, says Eunson, they want to bring together more “young leaders who are passionate and eager to make a difference.”

(Illustration: Pablo Espinosa)

Warming degrees

This approach to tackling climate change from multiple angles and sectors is also at the heart of a new bachelor’s degree in climate change offered by the University of Waikato – the first of its kind in the world.

The degree – now seeing its first class of students – combines science with humanities, economics, politics and indigenous knowledge, says dean of science Margaret Barbour. “It’s quite unique, we haven’t found an undergraduate degree that comes close [climate change] this way,” she says.

Students take a range of required courses, from the science of climate change to Maori and Pacific responses to climate change, and reinforce their degree with courses from one of 21 different majors, ranging from anthropology to philosophy through law. “Because climate change is such a thorny issue, we need people who can dive in and out of disciplines as needed,” says Barbour.

It envisions that someone who graduates can lead the full burden of a country’s climate change response, for example as an analyst or policy adviser, or can work as a scientist with a strong concentration on the environment, or work within a company advising them on sustainability.

One of the main aims of the degree is to see climate change from different angles. Not just across different disciplines, but also different people from different backgrounds. Part of this involves emphasizing the worldviews of Maori, the Pacific and other indigenous peoples.

“We had this realization among scientists, like me, who are trained in the West, that colonialism is part of the problem,” says Barbour. “If we shift our thinking to more indigenous worldviews, we can approach our interaction with the natural world in a different way.”

International students will also help foster discussions and new ways of approaching issues, Barbour says. Although there are currently only a few international students enrolled in the degree, due to the closure of borders last year, she is optimistic that the next semester will see an influx of new talent. According to the university’s own market research, one-third to one-half of international students surveyed consider climate change to be the biggest issue facing the world today.

When the degree was first announced, Barbour received huge positive reactions from climate change organizations around the world, including Swedish climate action group Climate Dialogue, and the Visits to the degree website amounted to approximately 170,000 per month. They hope demand for the degree will continue, including from international students seeking the highly personalized degree, as borders open up once again to the world.

(Illustration: Pablo Espinosa)

Squid stories

Some of the most relevant research on climate change comes from international students who come to New Zealand seeking expertise. It was the story of Alexandra Lischka, born in Germany.

Lischka began her New Zealand journey in perhaps one of New Zealand’s most remote locations. She was on a research trip to the Sargasso Sea, catching and identifying different species of squid, when she encountered one that neither she nor her teachers recognized. His professors suggested contacting deep-sea squid expert Kat Bolstard, from Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

This initial conversation turned into an internship, which turned into a full doctorate. It was the expertise offered in New Zealand that attracted Lischka, and the beautiful people and oceans that made him stay. “It’s so beautiful and there’s so much ocean, and the people were so friendly. I really like the New Zealand lifestyle,” she says.

Lischka investigated how heavy metals accumulate in arrow squid from various locations around Aotearoa. Squids are important to study, she explains, because they are essentially in the middle of the food chain, so heavy metals can be passed on to other animals, including whales or people who eat them. .

Plus, adds Lischka, the squid are likely to stay even if the ocean changes due to climate change. “Squid are the last survivors of climate change,” she says. “They can adapt so quickly and they seem to cope with areas of the ocean with low oxygen and rising temperatures.”

But Lischka learned more than the ins and outs of squid ecology. Studying in New Zealand was an opportunity for her to see things from a different angle and forge new professional relationships. “Kat is highly respected and has contacts around the world. I am now part of a worldwide network of marine biology experts,” she says. They have also worked closely with the Department of Conservation and, through them, the local iwi.

The importance of Indigenous knowledge is one of the things Lischka has taken to her next role as an environmental project coordinator with the Kahnawake people in Quebec, Canada. She now works across the country in British Columbia as an environmental scientist for a consulting firm and says she uses many of the things she learned while studying for her PhD in this new role. in New Zealand. “Critical thinking is really important and a do-it-yourself way of thinking too.”

And these are skills that many students, like her, Otero and those taking part in the world’s first-ever climate change degree, can draw from their New Zealand upbringing. It’s the academic knowledge, yes, but it’s the culture and the unique New Zealand way of doing things that sticks with people long into the future.


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