Integrating Education on Climate Change in the UWI Open Campus: Promoting Sustainable Development in CARICOM

Emily Dick-Forde

Review of the Climate Challenge and the Need for a Response

Environmental education empowers people to know what to do to promote sustainable development. Such education also allows participants to understand why we are to change and do things differently. The seriousness of the climate challenge cannot be overstated. The 4th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is one of many scientific reports that informs on the seriousness of the climate challenge and on the urgency of actions from all levels of humanity, to address the deteriorating condition of our earth (Geo4 Report UNEP, 2009). There has been a coordinated global response to such research particularly through the United Nations Environment Program.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty established under the UNEP in 1992, continues to lead in the push for a global approach to address the global warming challenge facing us and threatening future generations. Significant work has gone into the establishment of agreements and targets to reduce green house gas emissions and to engage all nations in the process. At the last UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen 2009, while the legally binding agreement many hoped for did not materialise, there was a commitment for the largest emitters to make meaningful reductions in their GHG emissions. These include the United States of America, India and China. However from the viewpoint of the most vulnerable nations, the small island states, which include the nations of the Caribbean, a greater sense of urgency is needed.

In the Caribbean region there is a still understated response to the climate challenge. The average individual and most corporations appear to not have grasped the seriousness or urgency of the climate challenge, especially our overexposure as a tropical island region to its negative impacts. The pioneering and relevant work of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) located in Belize seems disconnected from the daily routines of the region’s corporate and private citizens.

In its publication on a regional framework1 for climate resilience for the region, the CCCCC identifies the global climate change as “the most serious threat to sustainable development facing CARICOM states” and that in the bleak picture painted globally “CARICOM states indeed have considerable cause for concern as the threats posed to the region’s development prospects are severe” (CCCCC, 2009, p. iv).

Another study on the Caribbean region’s vulnerability to global climate change reported that, although Caribbean nations have contributed little to the causes of global climate change, this region will pay a heavy price for global inaction in reducing emissions (Buena et al., 2008). Indeed the report was very pessimistic concerning the future of this region if action is not taken to reverse the trend toward a warming earth, with its many negative and deleterious consequences.2

In the light of these and other reports on the dangers for our region, there needs to be a more consistent and focused effort to sensitize the citizens of this region to the climate challenge, than obtains at present. Moreover the response of corporate Caribbean toward emissions reduction must be increased and reported widely. The literature on corporate responses to climate change is silent on the efforts of Caribbean corporations (Begg et al., 2005; Sullivan, 2008). Indeed the development of a framework for accounting standards to guide the reporting on climate change impacts and mitigation efforts by corporations on the international agenda is yet to be embraced by corporations in the region.

Additionally, the tremendous strides made in the promotion of ethical investments, and the work of the Equator Principles have supported the many multinationals and other corporate citizens who have made the commitment to integrate sustainable development, including climate change, issues into the operations of their organisations. Such corporations and organisations have gone beyond the mere reporting on their direct impacts, to account in detail for all impacts such as the level of offset for carbon emissions from travel of executives and to report on their efforts outside of their operations to influence their supply chain to climate sensitive operations among other things. (Source: Various ACCA publications on Climate Change.)

In addition to these initiatives, it is noteworthy that this year, 2010, marks half way into the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005 to 2015. Activities in this decade include education on Climate Change as well as the use of on online and distance, and community-centered learning to encourage the deep behavioural changes required for sustainable livelihoods on our planet (UNDESD website). However, based on knowledge of what is available in the region it can be asserted that there appears to be no CARICOM initiatives connected to the UNDESD. The apparent inactivity on climate change education and corporate and individual responses to climate change in the Caribbean, among other efforts, leave a major gap in our understanding of, and preparation for the very serious impacts that may come our way based on the scientific evidence of the IPCC, the CCCCC and others.

This paper argues that improved knowledge, understanding and policy decisions on the issue in our region must be fast tracked and this can be done, in part, through the University of the West Indies Open Campus (UWI OC). eLearning and distance learning technologies are being used by several international bodies, and committed organisations to promote and advance learning in climate change to ensure better decision making in nations, regions and at international meetings. Some of these programs will be reviewed and lessons extracted to offer recommendations on a possible way forward for the UWI OC.

The remainder of this paper begins with a brief review of some research on behaviour change and environmental education to expand on the importance of concerns to change behaviour as a central aspect to education for the climate challenge. This section is followed by the review and analysis of eLearning initiatives in climate change. The paper recommends a way forward for the UWI Open Campus to include climate change training and degree programs in its offerings, in keeping with one of this Campus’ primary goals, which is to be relevant to the Caribbean. The paper also recommends the inclusion of a Community Learning and Development Module in an open education resource mode to preserve the Community-level legacy role of the UWI Open Campus and collaboration between the Open Campus and institutions like the CCCCC to ensure relevance.

Environmental Education and Behaviour Change

In the light of the apparent need for greater awareness and action in the Caribbean region on climate change, there is a need to consider how, if at all, environmental education might achieve the kinds of changes required in individuals and institutions. The embracing of environmentally beneficial and/or benign behaviours is a very important response to the climate challenge. The need for behaviour change becomes even more critical when considered in the context of recorded climatic changes and the disturbances to our ecosystem, social, and economic infrastructure that climate change has, and is likely to cause to our ecosystem, and our social, and economic infrastructure (Pruneau et al., 2006). Reducing carbon emissions from human activity is indeed the main mitigation measure being pursued based on the science of climate change.

To embrace environmentally sensitive behaviours requires dedicated and strategic interventions to help citizens change everyday behaviours that contribute to the production of greenhouse gases. When we consider citizens in our multiple roles including in the work place and as leaders in our communities, it becomes clear that changing behaviours at the individual level should have a significant impact. People are able to then transfer new behaviours to their other roles as employees, corporate leaders and public sector decision makers.

By leading in the delivery of accessible and flexible education on climate change to Caribbean citizens and its diaspora, the Open Campus UWI should make a major contribution to achieving goal number 4 of the CCCCC which is to “Build a society that is more informed about and resilient to a changing climate”. The importance of education in this area cannot be underestimated. The CCCCC expands on this goal by stating their intention, which is:

To support a public education and outreach program geared towards improving decision-making, encouraging policy changes where required, strengthening information access and data resources for key stakeholders, disseminating project-generated data and information, and fostering public awareness about the potential impacts of climate change.
In keeping with their commitments under Article 6 of the UNFCCC, CARICOM Member States must promote the development and implementation of educational and public awareness programmes, as well as public access to information and citizen participation. Such activities are intended to promote appropriate action and discourage maladaptive practices; for example, reconstruction of buildings in areas that are known to be extremely susceptible to extreme events. (p. 27) [Emphasis added.]

Changing actions is at the heart of goal number 4 of the CCCCC’s framework for resilience for this region. The view is advanced that behaviour change does not result from imparting knowledge on environmental issues or climate change, nor does it result from raising concerns on the issue (Game, et al., 2010). Behaviour change, they argue, requires a context-based strategy. Using the examples of individuals wanting to grow a garden, one in a very small space for a short time and one in a large area with long term interests, the authors demonstrate that you need the right tools, a supportive environment and some know how to get the seeds of behaviour change to grow. In the promotion of climate change education to effect changed behaviours that are critical to addressing the climate challenge, we need to advance climate change education in a mode that is widely accessible and that takes into account the contexts of the participants. In addition we must design learning to achieve the short, medium and long term goals that are central to combating the negative impacts of climate change.

Climate change and environmental education when focused in the manner outlined in this paper can help to strengthen civil society’s role in the behaviour change needed to increase meaningful action to help halt global warming. Klock (2005) argues that the slow uptake on meaningful environmental education in the USA is based largely on an ineffective civil society voice on the issue. This paper takes on board Klock’s view by putting the emphasis on educating people in their communities, and thus strengthening the capacities of NGOs and civil society to do their part.

A Review and Analysis of eLearning Initiatives in Climate Change

In this section several online educational resources are evaluated and recommendations made for the introduction of such programs through the UWI Open Campus to support needed behaviour change in the Caribbean. The courses and programs satisfy the tools needed for effective education for behaviour change as suggested from the brief review in the previous section.

The first online program summarised comes from the ZUNIA Open Education Resources website and was posted by the Centre for Sustainable Development’s Executive Director Tim Magee (July 18, 2010). These courses were announced for a September 2010 launch of a module of four online field courses on community-centered adaptation to climate change. The website informs that “these courses begin by introducing basic climate change concepts, and develop as participants identify local vulnerabilities and investigate appropriate solutions”.

The four courses are shown below with brief course descriptions.

341. Adapting to Climate Change: Designing & Funding Community-Centered Adaptation Projects.
August 31 - October 25.
Gain an insight into contemporary methods of developing community-centered, sustainable, impact-oriented projects. Gain practical field tools and develop a range of skills: facilitating participatory needs assessments, designing projects, and evidence-based activities. Develop a real project in real time.
342. Adapting to Climate Change: Planning for Impact.
November 9, 2010 – December 20.
Imbed impact into your adaptation project design with a powerful set of management tools. LogFrames, detailed budgets, timelines, compelling fact sheets, M&E plans, outcomes and impact. These tools will communicate to donors and stakeholders exactly what you are trying to accomplish and can be used for effective management of the project once funded.
343. Adapting to Climate Change: The Community Focus.
January 11 - February 21, 2011.
What does climate change adaptation mean at the community level? What practical tools are available today for communities to use in adaptation? For practitioners who wish to begin working now at the community level to successfully adapt to the challenges that face us.
344. Adapting to Climate Change: Sustainable Implementation.
March 15 - May 2, 2011.
Developing skill sets for your community to use in the adaptation process. Learning tools: monitoring & evaluation. Community empowerment during project hand-over. Sustainability, follow-up & mentoring.

The CSD’s detailed syllabi can be accessed at the following website:

They also provide an online adaptation working group in their online community for sharing and collaborating at:

This resource seems well suited to the Caribbean region in the way that it focuses on the development and implementation of climate change adaptation projects. One of the main aspects of the Copenhagen Accord was the inclusion of commitments for financial resources to vulnerable regions to pursue climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Individuals and community groups in the Caribbean would be able to better capitalise on such funds when they become available if they were prepared to do so.

The CSD reports that “[o]nline course participants are using our courses to develop real, on-the-ground projects with real communities through both individual and through cross-hemisphere student partnerships. People from 69 different countries have used these courses to develop projects in 2010.” This is the desired outcome for any programmes offered by the UWI OC. Relevant and practical courses with a focus on generating solutions to local problems.

The second online climate change program is a Masters degree entitled Climate Change Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation, from the Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen. This moves away from OER to a fee based degree. The rationale for the program is stated as to meet the increasing demand for higher education courses on climate change.

The degree programme commenced in February 2009, just before the UNFCCC COP15 meeting in Copenhagen. Described as a collaborative effort between members of the IPCC and an Advisor to USA President Obama, this course appears to adopt a pragmatic focus in its course content and delivery. Its focus is climate change impacts and the human responses to it, including efforts to adapt to climate change, as well as efforts to avoid or reduce the negative impacts of climate change. The Masters program utilises the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report as its major orientation, along with recent harmonizing and divergent research findings, thus giving it the critical content so necessary to any graduate program. Additionally, key content from the disciplines of economics and management are applied to analyse the different aspects of climate change and discuss possible solutions.

Consistent with the multidisciplinary nature of the climate challenge this course was developed by an interdisciplinary team of teachers, including four members of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) and one professor in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and Senior Climate Advisor to Barack Obama.

The University of Copenhagen rightly boasts that “since the course is offered as E-learning, it will be possible to follow the course from everywhere in the world if you have internet access. It is open to MSc students and continuing education students with a relevant BSc background in natural science, social science and economics”. The course structure and content are summarised by the institution as follows.

The course is divided in four main parts. In the first part of the course the E-learning platform is introduced and a basic understanding of the physical science of climate change is given, together with a brief introduction to the ongoing climate change debate. Natural and anthropogenic drivers, and direct observations of recent climate change are presented. Different climate change models and scenarios are presented and discussed in relation to future climate change projections.
In the second part of the course the impacts of climate change and potential adaptation strategies in different sectors are presented. After a short introduction to adaptive management and adaptive capacity, the climate change impacts and adaptation practices for ecosystems, land use, water resources, society and human health are presented and discussed in relation to both options, constraints, costs and benefits.
The third part of the course deals with different climate change mitigation strategies. First, a number of strategies are presented, including carbon sequestration, transition to carbon neutral energy sources, geo-engineering as well as measures to increase energy efficiency. Afterwards, it is analyzed and discussed which of the strategies for climate change mitigation are the most effective and cost-effective, both on a global scale and in various regions of the world.
In the fourth and final part of the course the focus is climate change policy and social change. First, the current status of international climate change negotiations is discussed. Afterwards, the regulatory instruments that may be applied to achieve climate change policy goals are presented. Finally, the course ends with a discussion of the need for voluntary agreements and social change in order to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

Such a program can indeed be extremely relevant to Caribbean nationals wishing to contribute to public policy formulation on climate change or to represent the region at international meetings on the issue. The UWI OC can indeed seek to partner with the University of Copenhagen to deliver this course in the region as all of the content is already online, but the limit to 90 participants suggest that more persons can access if there is institutional collaboration on delivery, among other things. This degree program to my mind offers a very comprehensive and timely degree program and in the mode to make it widely accessible to persons around the globe.

The final program to be reviewed in his paper comes from the European Union and is offered via the Open University UK among other partner institutions. This is a Masters degree offered as an EU response to the United Nations decade on education for sustainable development. The Open University’s offering on environment and climate change studies is delivered from inter-faculty Environment, Development and International Studies Programme and described as a project. The project is a collaboration of 9 institutions operating as a consortium and making available to each other content from the participating institutions for adaptation in their own degree programs.

The rationale and description of the project is as follows:

The lived experience of climate change: interdisciplinary e-module development and virtual mobility project concerns education and lifelong learning in relation to climate change, to contribute to an informed and active European citizenry and to inform EU policy on this major challenge. Focusing on the lived experiences of climate change – how individuals, communities and organisations conceive and respond to its perceived local impacts (e.g. extreme weather, biodiversity changes) – the project complements other work in the area. Through collaboration between nine participating institutions, designing innovative teaching modules and a virtual learning space, it aims to create a European community of scholars, students and citizens who collectively make a major contribution to the United Nations decade on education for sustainable development. (Emphasis added)

Among other things this project was developed by the Open University as one response from the EU to the UN decade for education for SD. The precedence is therefore set for the UWI OC to fulfil a similar role for CARICOM. Considerable flexibility is designed into this climate change education project, which is in keeping with the critical importance of widening access to knowledge and skills in adaptation and mitigation for climate change. The Open University therefore informs that “the teaching modules can be used flexibly by students: as available educational resources without assessment or accreditation to enhance their studies or as conventional modules with assessment and accreditation. To achieve the project’s aims, a virtual learning space contains the educational resources and facilitates learning communities and virtual mobility across the institutions.” The program’s content includes:

  1. An introduction to climate change in the context of sustainable development (teaching module)
  2. Comparing the experience of climate change in the global South and North (teaching module)
  3. Interdisciplinary research methods for investigating the lived experience of climate change (teaching module)
  4. A Masters dissertation package based on the virtual learning space which includes:
    1. A repository of suggested dissertation topics
    2. Hyperlinks to existing local, national and regional projects on climate change and their databases
    3. A repository of Masters’ dissertations in the area.
  5. A virtual mobility package based on the virtual learning space:
    1. A moderated virtual classroom for students and tutors/supervisors
    2. A moderated virtual café which expands access to citizens and organisations who might be the subject of dissertation projects, allowing for a dialogue on climate change between citizens and academia
    3. Ongoing monitoring of the package.
The teaching modules will become open educational resources at the project end for any University to use as it wishes.

3. A work package on piloting content delivery and virtual mobility. Students enrol in the virtual learning space and benefit from the educational resources, learning communities and virtual mobility offered. They are guided by institutional staff who also act as learning community moderators. (Emphasis added.)

A concluding comment on the project states that the “collaborative research agendas and input into policy processes are expected to follow from successful implementation of these activities, contributing to Europe’s ambition to be a leading player in meeting the challenge of sustainable development”.

The three online climate change education programs reviewed in this section offer comprehensive, flexible and accessible learning opportunities and demonstrate the efforts being made in various parts of the world to fulfil the urgent need for education at all levels on climate change. Such offerings can produce citizens who can contribute from varying levels in society to the climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts of their community, country, region and the global effort as well.

Recommendations and Conclusions

This paper has argued for the UWI Open Campus to take up the challenge to provide education at varying levels in a elearning mode for access by citizens across the region and its diaspora. It was observed that many regions and institutions of higher learning as well as institutions have embraced the need for a definite and accessible response to the challenge of sustainable development of which climate change is a major player. Indeed it was noted that the Open University UK provided a comprehensive response to the UNDESD. The Caribbean region has lagged behind a comprehensive response in terms of education and capacity building for our citizens, communities and institutions. The UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development has not to my knowledge had any widespread response from the region. The CCCCC, in outlining a regional framework for climate resilience of CARICOM nations articulate several goals. Goal number 4 calls for education and learning opportunities to “build a society that is more informed about and resilient to a changing climate”. The international and regional initiatives promoting the need for climate change education require a response from the UWI, as the region’s premier tertiary education institution. The UWI OC is well placed to be the first responder based on the review of programs on climate change where online/elearning has been the vehicle of choice.

Moreover the review of online climate change educational resources reveals a common thread of community networking across distances and capacity building in physical communities. This paper considers that the UWI OC should embrace this focus on community learning and development to preserve the community-level legacy role of the Open Campus, forged by its precedents in Extra Mural Studies and Schools of Continuing Studies over the decades. Another common thread from the review was that these educational resources had a commitment to open access by others to its online education resources, either immediately as in the case of the CSDi, or following a project completion as in the case of the Open University. These features of the online climate change programs reviewed suggests that the Open Campus UWI can pursue arrangements with other universities and institutions to quickly access content and even full degree programs for minor adaptation for Caribbean-specific issues and for delivery in a short course development cycle to citizens of CARICOM. The region needs to respond to climate change in a manner that reflects the widely held understanding of our vulnerability to its impacts.


1 “This framework is comprised of four key strategies and associated goals designed to significantly increase the resilience of the CARICOM economies:

  1. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation strategies into the sustainable development agendas of CARICOM states.
  2. Promoting actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency, conservation, and switching to renewable energy sources.
  3. Encouraging action to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems in CARICOM countries to the impacts of a changing climate.
  4. Promoting action to derive social, economic, and environmental benefits through the prudent management of standing forests in CARICOM countries.” (p. iv)

2 “The two dozen island nations of the Caribbean, and the 40 million people who live there, are in the front lines of vulnerability to climate change. Hotter temperatures, sea-level rise and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the Caribbean. As ocean levels rise, the smallest, low-lying islands may disappear under the waves. As temperatures rise and storms become more severe, tourism—the life-blood of many Caribbean economies—will shrink and with it both private incomes and the public tax revenues that support education, social services, and infrastructure.” (p. 2).


Begg, K., Van Der Woerd, F. And Levy, D. (Eds.) (2005) The Business of Climate Change: Corporate Responses to KYOTO. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield.

Bueno, R, Herzfeld, C., Stanton, E.A. and Ackerman, F., (2008) “The Caribbean and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction” Stockholm Environment Institute—US Center Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University. A study commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Climate Change and the Caribbean- A Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change, July 2009, Belize.

Centre for Sustainable Development Inc. (CSDi) website

Game, C., Liberatore, A., Popovich, E., and Zint, M. (2010) “Growing Behaviour Change”, in GreenTeacher, 89.

Klock, John (2005) “Strategies for Developing the College Course on Global Climate Change”, Electronic Green Journal, Apr. 2005, Issue 21.

Open University UK website, accessed September 1, 2010.

Pruneau, D., Doyon, A., Langis, J., Vasseur, L., Martin, G., Ouellet, E. and Boudreau, G. (2006), “The Process of Change Experimented by Teachers and Students when Voluntarily Trying Environmental Behaviors” Applied Environmental Education and Communications Vol. 5, pp. 33-40.

Sullivan, R. (2008), Corporate Responses to Climate Change: Achieving Emissions Reductions through Regulation, Self-Regulation and Economic Incentives. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield.

UNEP (2009) “Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4)”. University of Copenhagen Faculty of Life Sciences website, accessed September 1 2010 and November 13, 2010.

© Emily Dick-Forde

HTML last revised 2nd November, 2011.

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