India's pledge to attain Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2070, articulated by PM Modi at COP26 in Glasgow, UK underscores the nation's determination to combat climate change. In this context, higher education institutions take center stage for moulding future-ready policymakers.
In a world where life-threatening climate change is no longer a distant threat but a pressing reality, students and faculty from universities and higher education institutions across India are stepping up to the plate. In years after COVID-19, the world witnessed unprecedented disasters and loss of human lives caused by massive floods, unabated wildfires, deluge of landslides and life-threatening heatwaves. The month of July 2023 was the hottest month in the history of mankind.
Just a month after that, India witnessed an inspiring event that exuded hope. It was a day-long gathering of youth from 30 universities in India. Unlike what we see in the international climate conferences, they came together not to protest by shouting 'not enough is being done about climate crisis' but to demonstrate how 'more can be done to address climate challenge'. They were inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mission LiFE (Lifestyle For Environment) and his ambitious commitment to mitigating emissions by use of renewable energy.
The date was 19 August 2023. The place was the iconic heritage building of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) in Maharashtra. One from a student group and one faculty of each of the 30 universities of Western India started drafting a road map for carbon neutrality Net Zero. This down-to-earth workshop was part of the U75-a national movement and part of a global network of universities called Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN) of the Green TERRE Foundation, the Pune-based organizer of the movement.
The representatives of the universities who had given official consent to act on the climate crisis at the vice chancellors’ level, were guided in the workshop with inspiring words by mentors to the movement, Prakash Javadekar, former Minster of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India and Erik Solheim, former Minister of Environment of Norway and Under Secretary General of United Nations.
A responsibility to act
Even though India has not contributed significantly to climate change, as global citizens and family members of the Earth ( "Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam") we have a responsibility to act, said Javadekar while flagging of the climate action. Empowering campuses for a sustainable future is the visionary approach of Green TERRE Foundation as it puts youth in the driver's seat on the road to Net Zero, stated Solheim in his video speech. The event marked a pivotal moment in India’s journey towards sustainability, offering hope and inspiration in the face of the global climate crisis.
Net-Zero is the movement launched in the first year after the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. The movement is a clarion call for early action. It beckons universities to begin the action in their own campus and build their green skills through hands-on experience to embrace global ambitions to achieve net-zero emissions, said Dr Rajendra Shende, IIT alumni, former Director of UNEP and Coordinating lead author of IPCC that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Beyond the immediate goal of reducing carbon footprints, it emphasizes the critical role of higher education institutions in molding future leaders equipped to confront the most formidable environmental challenges of our time. This movement recognizes that universities are not just centers of learning; they are the crucibles to mold the minds of climate leaders of tomorrow.
One of the unique aspects of the movement is its hands-on approach, particularly beneficial for students to train them in green skills, a pivotal need of the future. In addition, the event promoted practical guidance on the development and deployment of Net-Zero technologies. ‘Technology Innovation to address emission reduction is essential to achieve Net Zero. That could be triggered in the campus through the participation of youth in the U75 movement ’, stated Prof T G Sitharam Chairman of AICTE, All India Council of Higher Technical Education. He also highlighted the demographic advantage of India with the largest youth population which is conducive to innovations.
The regional workshop provided a vibrant platform for diverse stakeholders—university leaders, educators and students. Sustainability experts from UNDP, the Ministry of Energy, and ASSOCHAM presented best practices and case studies from other university campuses to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Net-Zero concept.
Piloting the emission reduction strategies on campus needs tools and advisory services. Experts from GTF presented a digital platform developed for online and real-time measurement and monitoring of emissions, sharing and partnering of innovative practices through cloud networking, and the use of AI and IoT for cost savings.
How universities can become role models
Technology Innovation for accelerated emission reduction is essential to achieve Net Zero. That would be triggered in the campus through the participation of youth in U75, stated Prof T G Sitharam, Chairman of AICTE-All India Council of Higher Technical Education, who was also the Chief Guest for the workshop.
University Grant Commission, Niti Aayog, and National Educational Technology Forum ( NETF) have supported the Net-Zero movement by the universities. Net-Zero movement on the campus is a green skill-building exercise, said Prof Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman of NEFT while addressing the Universities.
India's pledge to attain Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2070, articulated by PM Modi at COP26 in Glasgow, UK underscores the nation's determination to combat climate change. In this context, higher education institutions take center stage for moulding future-ready policymakers. It also takes the clues from National Education Policy 2020 that promotes Sustainable Development Goals.
The key outcome of the workshop also revealed a fact that Net Zero results in cost-saving for universities and rotating funds can be created to support initial investments in the campus. That itself would be the financial model for India for Net Zero.
The workshop showcased how universities can become role models of environmental stewardship through behavioral change, energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon offsetting through tree plantation in campus and beyond the campus.
More regional workshops would follow to cover all 100+ universities across the country that have consented to act on Net Zero campus.