22 November 2019

Scientific Solutions to Advance Climate Action

One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1,400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.

On the anniversary of the program launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The fifth school profiled in our anniversary series is the University of Zurich, hub for SDG 13: Climate Action.      

Young people are increasingly seeking scientific perspectives on climate change science, impacts and solutions and trends confirm that interest in climate change issues has gained increasing importance over the years. The current teaching and research landscape pertinent to climate action is widely spread across faculties and departments of the University of Zurich and reflects these needs. For example, the Science Lab UZH focusses on sustainability and offers workshops and excursions for high school classes, trains teachers and conducts outreach events for the public.

Since 2008, the number of students enrolled in the master’s program on global warming in the Department of Banking and Finance has quadrupled.  A large number of high school students attended workshops dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and associated changes in the carbon cycle and climate-related developments in the polar and high alpine regions. PhD candidates are teaching undergraduate students how to develop an understanding of the complex interdependencies of development and climate change in the field of energy and examine synergies and potential trade-offs of simultaneously pursuing development and climate policy goals. These are just some examples of the educational activities at the University of Zurich.

Developing scientific methods to integrate climate-related financial risk into investors’ decision making is one example of research at the University of Zurich that covers several aspects relevant to SDG 13. This research will be part of the Centre of Competence in Sustainable Finance that will be launched by the end of the year. The center will ensure a long-term continuity of the interdisciplinary research output produced by the Centre for Responsibility in Finance, the Centre for Sustainable Finance and Private Wealth and the FINEXUS Centre for Financial Networks and Sustainability.  The long-term impact is that this research addresses one of the main obstacles in engaging in the low carbon transition, namely on the financing side, and we make a tangible contribution to make the transition happen within the time window indicated by the climate models by 2030-2045.

Advancing the production and dissemination of knowledge on climate change adaptation, its application in policy and practice and related capacities is only possible through international networks of academic institutions. The recently launched Knowledge for Climate Network uses a joint knowledge production approach to engage in innovative and impactful research and education. Strengthening research skills of young anthropologists in climate change adaptation is another example of North-South collaboration.

To build the next generation of climate scientists a training and mentoring program was launched in September by the University of Zurich with the Mountain Research Initiative in Bern, ICIMOD in Nepal, the NGO Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The program supports the professional development of researchers from countries which are underrepresented in the IPCC, like Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. The long-term vision of the program is to strengthen scientific evidence on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation from mountain regions in Asia, Africa and South America through original research contributions and/or synthesis work.

The University of Zurich is also active in the international climate policy arena. The Institute of Political Science provided an understanding of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which aims at promoting approaches to assist governments in implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  At the Innovate for Climate fair in Singapore, the University of Zurich organized a side event "The landscape of Article 6 pilot Activities" which provided a platform to key Article 6 pilot initiatives. Through such initiatives, activity developers can understand the different approaches, especially regarding methodologies used and geographical and technological priorities. In doing so, the University of Zurich engages in policy dialogue which is crucial to the Global Stocktaking planned for 2023 and beyond for the fulfillment of the Paris Agreement.

Overall, the engagement of the University of Zurich in the SDG on Climate Action is forward-looking through its multiple lines of activities in research, teaching and public engagement. These activities are targeted to form a new generation of researchers in line with targets 13.3, and 13.B, to address the key challenges of strengthening resilience to climate impacts and risks (target 13.1 and 13.3) and to foster measures that mitigate climate change (target 13.2 and 13.3).

To learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs, including the University of Zurich, visit the United Nations Academic Impact SDG Hubs.

To learn more about the University of Zurich and its engagement in climate action and sustainability, check out the following resources:

Local Experts for Global Reports

University of Zurich Sustainability