Saturday, April 13, 2024

Waikato Uni offers world-first climate change degree

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Agriculture and its impact on climate will be a key component of the world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change available from the University of Waikato. The three-year degree will combine scientific knowledge with understanding of economic, social and political systems, and Māori and Pacific responses to climate change.
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Agriculture and its impact on climate will be a key component of the world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change available from the University of Waikato.

The three-year degree will combine scientific knowledge with understanding of economic, social and political systems, and Māori and Pacific responses to climate change.

University of Waikato dean of science Professor Margaret Barbour says agriculture was not ignored in the degree; nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions came from primary production.

It was threaded throughout the degree across the three years and university staff had taken a holistic approach to teaching it.

It did not take one perspective as more important than the other, but looked at it across the entire sector.

Barbour co-teaches the first-year introduction to climate science paper, which spent a lot of time on agriculture.

“We talk about New Zealand’s greenhouse gas profile emissions, we talk about how agriculture is impacted by climate change, but also how agriculture could help with climate change solutions,” Barbour said.

While it is a science paper, Barbour says they will be encouraging students to think about social issues and the impact of changing agriculture would have on people’s livelihoods and lifestyles.

“That could mean big changes to agricultural production, which we rely on as a country,” she said.

“It’s about thinking more than just the science of it, but also the humans involved, the environment involved and how it all fits together.”

As NZ and the world work towards a target of net zero emissions by 2050, she says our future depends on how we respond to the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how we adapt to environmental change.

“While climate change is an incredibly complex problem, the solution is very simple – globally, we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. This requires a fundamental shift in the way we do business and go about our lives, with careful consideration of inequalities in impacts,” she said.

The university recognised climate change could not be addressed from within the traditional disciplinary silos, so it launched the degree, starting in 2022, with the intention of creating a common language and shared understanding of climate change.

“Waikato’s researchers already have a proud history of addressing climate change from their exploratory work in agricultural greenhouse gases to examining political, social and economic systems and understanding the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather events,” she said.

“The Bachelor of Climate Change brings together this collective expertise across all the disciplines, creating a common language in the fight against the globe’s most pressing environmental issue.”

Seven core papers form the basis of the degree, which culminates in a third-year group project where students will come together to work with a company, iwi or community group to solve a real climate change problem.

“Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is woven through the qualification, requiring holistic thinking and a recognition that humans are part of the natural world not above it. He oranga taiao, he oranga tangata,” she said.

“Graduates with a Bachelor of Climate Change will lead future climate change solutions through an ability to think critically across science, arts, management and social sciences disciplines, and do so with cultural competency.”

Students with the qualification will be in demand across the country and the world as NZ works towards the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Students with University Entrance can enrol directly into year one of the Bachelor of Climate Change, the first official intake starting in 2022.

The new qualification was presently only offered at a Bachelor’s level. Barbour says the university was still working on a postgraduate option for its students.

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