Welcome to November-December’s Hot Topic Theme: COP26 and embedding the climate emergency in our teaching

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In this post, Joséphine Foucher introduces November and December’s Hot Topic theme: COP26 and embedding the climate emergency in our teaching. Joséphine is Teaching Matters’ Co-Editor and Student Engagement Officer.


With COP26 kicking off in Glasgow this week, Teaching Matters’ November and December Hot Topic theme takes stock of the significance of this crucial global event unfolding at home to reflect on the challenges of embedding the climate emergency into our teaching. This is an interrogation at the core of the ethos of many departments, schools, and programmes at the University. Through this series, we will explore the dilemma of making the climate emergency an integral component of our teaching practices, which can be difficult when considering how activism, policy-change, individual responsibility, and pedagogy operate on different registers and time-frames. How do we intertwine the urgency of climate awareness and action with the different mechanisms of learning, such as critical engagement and reflective absorption? How do we tackle the oxymoron of teaching about a crisis in a sustainable manner?

This theme will provide a wide-array of discussions and reflections to such conundrums. Departing from the significance and stakes of COP26, we will hear from organisers of specific courses, and students participating in the conference, to offer ideas on how we might scale the global challenges and action promises presented at COP26 into transdisciplinary and transformative curricula.

In this series, we will hear from Dave Reay, climate change scientist, author, and Professor of Carbon Management and Education at The University of Edinburgh on the significance of COP26 and what he hopes to see come out of it. Professor Reay is also the Executive Director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI), which leads the way in approaching climate change through inter- and transdisplinary programmes.

We will also hear from several students, some of whom will be participating in the conference, to understand what COP26 means to them and their future.

Ian Cochran and Aman Gill-Lang will discuss the MSc Climate Change Finance and Investment programme to provide a concrete example of what ‘embedding’ climate awareness within course design actually entails. PhD student and research fellow, Lisa Howard, will reflect on her experience getting involved in activism leading up to COP26 through a feminist lens; highlighting the sociological pertinence of intersectionality when thinking about climate justice. Meanwhile, Jarmo Eskelinen, Executive Director of the Data Driven Innovation Initiative, will unpack the Sustainable Cities and Communities theme and its implications both from pedagogical and policy standpoints. And many more!

To prepare us for these discussions, Glen Cousquer, Lecturer and Coordinator of the MSc and MVetSci programmes in One Health and Conservation Medicine, published a three-part blog post on how COP26 provides material for expanding our learning and teaching toolbox through better emotional engagement, mindfulness and shifting assumptions about knowledge production. You can revisit the posts here:

Part 1: COP26 is knocking on the doors of our classrooms: How will be respond to the know?

Part 2: Nurturing Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence

Part 3: Walking, the COP26 pilgrimage and the development of ecological awareness

Finally, last year’s series on “Embedding sustainability in the curriculum” offers a timely indication that these discussions around climate awareness are very far from being new. The theme’s blog posts are worth reading in tandem with the upcoming ones for this series, as they provide a temporal comparison on how our preoccupations might have both shifted and remained relevant:

Happy reading!


photograph of the authorJoséphine Foucher

Joséphine is doing a PhD in Sociology at The University of Edinburgh. Her research looks at the intersection between art and politics in contemporary Cuba. She supports Jenny Scoles as the Teaching Matters Co-Editor and Student Engagement Officer through the PhD Intern scheme at the Institute for Academic Development.

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