RISE Bring the UN to Your University

With climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events action needs to be taken to adapt and develop resilience within our towns and cities. These pressures are being felt across the globe as exemplified by the recent heat wave in the North West of Canada and the US and the flooding in Western Europe. Whilst England is known for its mild climate the impact of these events in the form of heat waves and flooding can be devastating, especially for vulnerable members of our society.

These issues were addressed as part of the RISE Bring the UN to Your University Project at Manchester Metropolitan University. In brief, this project brought small students groups together to work on intensive project that aimed to address and implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at Manchester Metropolitan and the wider Manchester area. To aid in this several experts in sustainable development were asked to provide inspiration for projects that brought the SDGs to the student’s local area of MMU and Manchester.

Two of these experts, Paul O’Hare and Lewis Nelson, from the MCCA proposed work in developing and communicating adaption and resilience to climate change in Manchester. These challenges are interwoven with many of the UN SDGS from the scientific and technological: Sustainable Cities and Communities (Goal 11), Innovation and Infrastructure (Goal 9), Climate Action (Goal 13) to human and societal wellbeing: Good Health and Well-Being (Goal 3) and Decent Work (8). As such, teams were formed from a multi-disciplinary cohort. Students from architecture, law, chemistry, international relations, linguistics and geography all worked together and combined their different skills and knowledge to meet the challenges of the project.

Two teams took up the climate adaptation challenges with one focusing on flood risk and the other on heat stress. An initial challenge faced by the groups was untangling the concept of climate adaption and resilience from broader climate action, such as reducing emissions. This highlighted the importance of communication of adaptive strategies and how they may be a less well-known or understood part of action taken on climate change.

Both groups felt that communication was key and investigated methods of making information on climate adaption more accessible for the general public, industry and policy makers. The group focusing on heat stress decided that a low-tech approach was best and produced a leaflet addressing various sectors of society with information on how to reduce and plan for the impacts of heat waves. The flood group went for a more high tech approach, creating schematics for an app and website to inform the public about flood risks.

These decisions were informed by the student’s experiences through the Covid pandemic as they reflected on the different strategies for public engagement they had witnessed. The heat stress group especially felt that key workers such as pharmacies, doctor’s surgeries and schools should be targeted. They also felt a friendly approachable method of communication with an abundance of visuals would be ideally suited to achieve this and this is reflected in the material they produced.

Overall, the project provided students with the opportunity to reflect on how the large and all-encompassing UN SDGs can be applied and achieved and the local community level. The project also highlighted how a wide range of skills and disciplines, alongside community engagement is essential to adapt and develop. 

Examples of illustrations produced by the student teams to include in their leaflet on heat stress adaptation.