The global pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to take immediate action on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from ensuring delivery of high-quality education to contributing to the achievement of net-zero emissions on campus.

Since the launch of The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development in 2016, nations, private, and public sectors have been collaborating to help keep track of achieving The 17 Sustainable Development Goals focused on people, the planet, and prosperity. In the education sector, universities and higher education institutions play a crucial role through research, leadership training, and campus operations in ensuring the realisation of sustainability ambitions.

Advancing Agenda 2030

The recent report by the Canadian Bureau of International Education titled “Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals at Canadian Universities” highlighted the initiatives, including internationalisation efforts and institutional frameworks, of higher education institutions across the country to embed the SDGs in their strategies and operations. Some of the mentioned institutions’ efforts in the report included Carleton University’s Sustainability Plan (2020-2025) centred on driving sustainability through leadership, teaching and learning as well as research and community engagement and Université de Montréal’s “Unité de santé internationale” (International Health Unit), which addresses the SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being by collaborating with communities, health networks, and government authorities to approved the health of populations.

The report also featured SDSN Canada, part of a global SDSN movement and hosted at the University of Waterloo, which is geared towards establishing a network of higher education institutions and research centres to advocate practical, sustainability solutions. SDSN has over 1,300 participating institutions worldwide joining forces to address pressing global challenges and contribute to implementing the United Nations SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Furthermore, in 2020, Universities Canada, supported by the federal government’s SDG funding program, launched a pan-Canadian initiative that embraces The Agenda 2030. The initiative was directed at increasing awareness of SDG projects on campuses in Canada and exploring sustainable solutions in collaboration with communities across various sectors.

Aiming Net Zero by 2050

Following the recently held 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), Canada’s public colleges, CEGEPs, polytechnics, and institutes have committed to achieving Net Zero Emissions on Campus by 2050 in collaboration with government and private sectors. Specifically, the institutions will be harnessing their students, training, and applied research to develop solutions that would contribute to reducing GHG emissions and further Canada’s competitive edge.

“Achieving net-zero emissions will require concerted efforts across Canada and we are proud to say that colleges and institutes are committed to doing their part. Our campuses are deeply connected to so many levers of change within their communities, starting with their students, and able to enact meaningful change. By committing ourselves to achieving carbon neutrality, we believe we can accelerate action across Canada and support the energy transition necessary to transform our economy and protect our planet for the generations to come,” said Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada.

In a separate announcement, University Canada West (UCW) reported that the institution has become a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), stressing the university’s commitment to contributing to “building a thriving, equitable and ecologically just world.”