Sustainable development and climate change: A challenge for education in Albania and the Balkans

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By Dr. Elona Pojani *

Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our generation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that average global surface temperatures have risen by 0.13 ° C per decade since 1950 and that average global surface temperatures may rise from 1.8 ° C to 4 ° C by the end. of the 21st century due to GHG emissions expected to occur in the future. The potential consequences of this heating range from manageable to catastrophic. Some impacts will be felt on agricultural production, natural ecosystems, biodiversity, water pollution, forests and living species, health and sea level rise. Climate variability over the past century has been exacerbated by human activity, especially in developed countries. Scientists have warned that if no action is taken, the consequences will be catastrophic for future generations. 

Contemporary thinking on climate change management defines two different types of activities to address it: mitigation activities and adaptation activities. Mitigation activities have the main emphasis because the more mitigation is done, the less adaptation activities will be needed. However, even in the most optimistic scenario of mitigation efforts, the effects of climate change will be felt increasingly, seeking cooperation on an international scale. In 2015, the 193 world leaders of the United Nations agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to launch an integrated action plan worldwide, embracing all dimensions of sustainability. Sustainability objectives offer more opportunities for multi-stakeholder participation and cooperation, as well as new challenges for our economic and social environment.

The education system is greatly affected by these challenges. Climate change affects both the demand and supply side of education. Less developed communities are those that bear the costs of a disadvantaged environment, and this also affects the provision of education. Climate change affects the quality of education and endangers the safety of students and teachers involved in the teaching and learning process. Disasters caused by climate change can damage or destroy school buildings and education systems, threatening the physical security and psychological well-being of communities. Population migration due to climate threats may cause interruption of education supply. Moreover, the economic impacts of disasters reduce school enrollment, as children are kept out of school to help their families cope with the consequences of disaster.

Despite the threats of climate change, the education sector includes many adaptive capacities. Higher Education Institutions are the place where future leaders are trained. Therefore, they have the opportunity to lead actions towards sustainability and adaptation to climate change. It has already been proven that education has an impact on key issues of global importance, so it is important that its role is not overlooked.

There are many ways in which issues of sustainable development and adaptation to climate change can be incorporated into the education system. Education for Sustainable Development is a comprehensive and multidisciplinary tool that includes not only the development of new knowledge in the field of climate change and sustainable development, but also focuses on enabling schools and education systems to become more resilient to climate change. , as well as more durable and green. 

Education for Sustainable Development offers many opportunities, but at the same time presents many challenges. Education is a critical component of adaptive skills. The way people are educated and the content of education can provide the knowledge and skills needed to make decisions about how to adapt our lifestyles and choices in a changing environment. Teaching sustainability involves the interdisciplinary nature of the problems in question. Moreover, it requires not only a focus on the content of different subjects, but also the application of new ways and methodologies of teaching. Sustainability pedagogy is therefore a complex issue. Typically, lecturers involved in this type of teaching are required to work outside their areas of expertise. They need to bring new content and methodologies to the teaching process in order to promote critical thinking and a problem-solving approach by students. Finally, schools and educational institutions need to be made sustainable through green policies that promote sustainability through the construction, design and maintenance of educational facilities, thereby reducing their ecological footprint. In summary, the education system can influence the response to climate change by improving knowledge about the phenomenon, addressing teaching methodologies that foster an approach to problem solving and critical thinking, and making university services more sustainable and resilient. green.

Although the role of education in addressing the challenges of climate change is increasingly recognized, the ability of education to contribute to adaptation and mitigation measures has yet to penetrate the development of thinking. This is especially true for the Balkan region, including Albania.

The countries of the Western Balkans share a common communist past, which, to varying degrees, continues to influence their higher education systems. However, in the post-communist period (1990 to date) higher education curricula have been heavily revised to incorporate the principles set out in the Bologna Process. Also, completely new courses have been designed. The European Union has supported the higher education sector in the region through a wide range of projects and funding schemes, and most countries have agreed to a willingness to embrace Western educational practices, such as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. While bachelor programs tend to be more traditional in terms of content and focus, postgraduate programs are making joint efforts to expand their content. The creation of a range of master programs is proof of this. This change reflects the needs of an increasingly challenging future as described above. New graduate skills need to meet new needs of the community, government and industry.

In the Balkan region, a lack of action in the field of sustainability within Higher Education Systems is identified. Little effort has been made to implement modernized education in the field of sustainable development in the region as well as little effort to make university services more efficient and sustainable. As Education for Sustainable Development is becoming increasingly popular in the EU, there is still work to be done in the Balkans. With the exception of Greece, few countries in the region have implemented the concept of interdisciplinarity in higher education, and the inclusion of topics related to disaster risk management, adaptation to climate change, energy markets, etc. Cultural rigidity, the traditional education system, and the generally limited labor market are some of the barriers to implementing such requirements in higher education.

Sustainable development and climate change: A challenge for education in Albania and the Balkans 1

Market research conducted in Albania shows that, while expressing the need for a more diverse workforce (in terms of education), professionals doubt the ability of the labor market to include graduates of “modern” and innovative study programs ". A study program of an interdisciplinary nature implemented in 2018 at the Faculty of Economics, University of Tirana, in the framework of an EU project called "Knowledge for a sustainable society", is one of the first efforts in the country to including topics on sustainability in university curricula. The program is called the Master of Science in Risk Management and includes topics that are indirectly and directly related to sustainability, such as: disaster risk management, adaptation to climate change, financial resilience to risks, disaster risk modeling, disaster risk assessment, etc. This study program is the only one in the country that includes a course on Adaptation to Climate Change. Despite its importance, this study program has involved only 30 students in each of its first two generations. 

To address these challenges and lead the way to sustainability in the higher education system, international cooperation and assistance is essential. The experience of EU countries in the field of sustainability can be a boost in achieving the goals of sustainability for higher education in the Balkan region. Joint projects, cooperation between higher education institutions from the EU and the Balkans, as well as the promotion of cooperation and networking within the region and beyond, address the integration goals of each country and serve the needs of joint and integrated action for the development of sustainable.

* Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Consultant in the UNDP Economics / Climate Change Program

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