In the face of disasters like North America’s record-breaking heat waves, fatal flooding in China and Germany, and Australian wildfires, climate change has quickly become our deadly reality. Recent years have seen individuals bear the weight of advocacy against environmental emergency. Their action takes many forms, from metal straws to climate protests — but citizens are not alone in their fight to save our planet. The United Nations adopted a set of goals to address the most dire, worldwide crises of our time. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover a wide range of issues, promoting awareness and research on 17 different environmental and humanitarian challenges. Among ambitions like clean water, gender equality, and responsible consumption, the SDGs emphasize the necessity of global collaboration in solving urgent sustainability issues.
That is why IU became a founding member of the U.S. chapter of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in 2018 and launched the UN SDG Poster Competition in 2019. After its initial success, IU invited international partner universities to join the effort and formed the UN SDG Partner Network, which spans five continents and includes institutions from seven countries. Within this unique setting, students integrate multiple perspectives into collective learning and problem solving, transcending boundaries, and acting in local and global contexts.
In its second year, the Global Partners Research Forum was held on Earth Day and addressed the UN’s 13th SDG: Climate Action. The annual event promotes young researchers and their work toward creating a more sustainable future — one development goal at a time.
With the average global temperature woefully off track to stay below the UN’s goal of 1.5°C, climate change has swiftly become a threat to humanity. Students and faculty mentors from IU and its partner universities in Germany, Mexico, Kenya, India, Taiwan, and England were called to promote their climate research in parallel UN SDG Poster Competitions. The winners from each institution, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, were invited to present their findings at the Global Forum.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our generation,” says Thomas Day, the competition’s undergraduate winner from IU. “We have eight years until 2030 — these are the most critical years in trying to limit warming to two degrees.”
The eleven researchers who presented at the Forum covered several different approaches to Climate Action in their posters, from Moi University’s Hellen Wambui Githogori discussing the role of women as agents of change in the fight for climate, to Ana Paula Amcir Silva Montaño’s dive into community environmental management as social enterprises in Mexico. Thomas Day, with the support of IU faculty mentor Jessica O’Reilly, presented on the implementation gap of negative carbon emission technologies, speaking to the urgency of immediate climate action and collaboration between young researchers.
“This is the issue of our generation,” Day reiterates. “We’re the ones who will have to live with the actions of the present and the past. It’s important for us to be educated about it and see how we can bring our own skills into solving it.”
Bringing individual skills and perspectives is a defining factor of the Forum, in more ways than one. On a local level, students develop research around issues they see in the environment around them, like IU graduate winner Dylan Patterson’s study of tree canopies across IU campuses.
“I started my research at IUPUI around 2019. We wanted to map out all our trees on campus to get an idea of our tree canopy health and get data on what trees were doing for our campus,” Patterson explains. Shortly afterward, the process developed for IUPUI’s campus was standardized for Bloomington’s; then, in summer of 2021, the process was applied to all seven regional IU campuses.
Patterson’s research didn’t stop at IU. “A process that is built for one local environment… can be standardized with processes that are happening in other places,” he continues. “Eventually, this tool can be taken to a location where it was never intended to work and still get usable data. The effects of climate change are not felt by one community, they’re felt across borders – we should be able to take processes that also work across borders.”
On a global level, the Forum allows for students to collaborate across countries, bringing local perspectives to international issues and their solutions. Andrea Adam Moore, director of the Europe Gateway in IU’s Global Gateway network, says this is the ultimate goal of the conference.
“Students hearing questions about their research from students on different continents gives them a global perspective that they may not get otherwise,” says Moore. “They get a valuable opportunity— the Forum provides exposure to international issues and methods, which allows them to expand their view of global issues.”
The Forum fosters more than just student collaboration; Moore emphasizes the conference’s significance in bringing together IU and its international partners, stating that the Forum has been “a true collaboration” between institutions that has strengthened their connection and expanded the possibilities regarding future initiatives.
Together, the international partner institutions and their students pave the way for a new generation of research and solutions. IU’s Global Student Sustainability Ambassador, Gie Wilson, captures how important the Forum is to a rising class of young researchers, both as scholars and collaborators: “Graduate and undergraduate students can come together to discuss solutions in their own research to achieve a specific goal.” She explains that as students, they all have a part to play in fostering a sustainable future — and they are intent on doing exactly that at the Global Forum.
“A lot of students are frustrated with the lack of climate action,” says Wilson. “This gives them hope.”