Universities don’t often work together, but saving the planet calls for the creative forces of every young mind.

This belief is behind a recent decision by four top research universities — three from Canada and one from France — to band together and generate a new cohort of climate change-makers.

The global climate crisis calls for more global collaboration, so “the only way to solve climate change is with young people who have the capacity, idealism and motivation to take on the challenge,” says professor Milind Kandlikar from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“As a professor, people think your research is the most important contribution to the problem. But, after 20-odd years on the job, I’ve come to realize my biggest contribution is to the students that go out into the world,” says Kandlikar, who teaches at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC. He is the university’s academic lead on a new multi-campus project that aims to shape the new generation of climate leaders.

His students — along with graduate students from the UBC, the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph and Sciences Po in Paris — will now have opportunities to participate in a new climate adaptation, resilience and empowerment program (CARE) program. The program aims to empower graduate students with the skills, knowledge and experience required to design innovative solutions to combat the global climate crisis.

The partnership, which was announced earlier this month, is funded through a €7.2-million grant from the David R. Graham Foundation and helps to promote cultural exchange between Canada and France. Over the next five years, the program will reach over 2,000 students with scholarship and fellowship opportunities, a wide range of multi-campus and interdisciplinary courses, research projects and advocacy and communications to promote best practices.

Canadian universities don’t work together that much, Kandlikar admits, so the opportunity to work with both Canadian and French Institutions enables two-way learning. Europe is at the forefront of climate policy and decarbonization, but Canada is ahead in its engagement with Indigenous Peoples.

“There’s always something one place can learn from the other, and climate change is a problem that will only be solved by co-operation,” Kandlikar says.

Joaquin Espinosa is a public policy analyst and a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He’s happy with his degree and career path now, but wishes there were more opportunities as a student to enhance his climate expertise.

A new campus partnership between top research universities in Canada and France aims to enhance international collaboration and empower the rising generation to combat the global climate crisis.

“I enrolled in a class on environmental justice and development, and many topics in global affairs and public policy have a climate change component. But there were not many class offerings with a sole focus on climate change,” he recalls. “One of my specializations in grad school was human rights, which is very broad. But if the CARE program was around when I was a student, I probably would have switched gears to focus on climate change.”

Espinosa, who originally hails from Quito, Ecuador, is hopeful the CARE program will draw upon the expertise of more diverse professors and scholarship. “Climate change affects people who are the most marginalized, so why not have those people teach the classes?” he adds.

While the need for more representative scholarship is clear, Kandlikar underscores the need for wealthy Western societies such as Canada and France to take action in the fight against climate change. They are responsible for so many of the historical emissions, he says, and “it’s incumbent upon us to take leadership roles in solving these problems. The more the wealthy countries work together, the better equipped we are to move forward.”

With the approved funding for the CARE program, faculty from the participating universities are busy at work developing new courses, designing exchange opportunities and planning an annual conference.

“My hope is for the program to have a multiplier effect for participating students,” Kandlikar says. “My students are doing amazing things around the world, so I’m excited for the rising generation to finish their training, mobilize and take us where we want to go.”

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