A Virtual Summer Study-Aboard Program Looks at Global Climate Change with Partners in Rwanda

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Three images illustrating the program, a statue of George Mason, a field of greenery, and the outline of a city.


As the world heads towards the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference—COP26—in November, there’s a lot of excitement about the future of climate policy in the U.S. But it remains to be seen how the world negotiates with a country that is the largest polluter in the world per capita and had famously withdrawn from the historic Paris agreement.

Now the U.S. wants back in, and in its former leadership position. Meanwhile, there’s an increasingly powerful player at the table: The Global South. 

 The Schar School of Policy and Government’s new, fully immersive virtual study-abroad program, Climate Policy: A Global, Transdisciplinary Approach for the Future, features TED-style talks with leading climate experts from around the world, as well as cultural exchanges with young climate activists, entrepreneurs, and innovators. This unique virtual climate program is in partnership with the University of Rwanda’s acclaimed Center of Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management.

Students from George Mason University and the Schar School will have the opportunity to work with their counterparts from Rwanda in addition to hearing from 20 guest speakers from all over the world, many of whom are regular speakers at COP, the World Economic Forum, and other high-profile events.

“The North/South divide has been the key stumbling block at COP, but climate change is often looked at from the viewpoint of the Global North. This course examines climate policy from both perspectives,” explains Schar School senior fellow Gebreselassie Tesfamichael, who is leading the course.

Students will have an unprecedented opportunity to hear from top climate thought leaders and visionaries from throughout the world, giving students a global perspective on climate change and an understanding of some of the most consequential policy problems facing governments today, as well as a look at new innovations and future strategies. 

“If different perspectives and needs aren’t taken into consideration, global climate agreements will either falter or they will become one more mechanism for furthering North-South inequality,” says Mathilde Thue, one of the course contributors and a frequent delegate at COP for nearly a decade.

“This program really is an unparalleled opportunity for our students to learn about climate policy from the world’s experts,” says Michal McElwain Malur, the director of External Programs at the Schar School and a co-creator of the course.

The 3-credit course is offered as both a graduate and undergraduate course. The majority of the sessions will be held over two weekends (July 24-25 and July 31-August 1), plus an orientation on July 11 and final session on August 8. Scholarships are available. Contact Michal McElwain Malur with questions at mmcelwai@gmu.edu.  

To register, click here.

Here is a partial list of speakers:

“The State of the Planet”: Erik Solheim is the former Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the lead climate agency at the UN. Solheim was Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development. He is a global leader in climate and currently serves as president of the Belt and Road Green Development Institute in Beijing, CEO of the Plastic REVolution Foundation in Oslo, and co-chair of Treelion, a green blockchain company in Hong Kong.

"Creating a Green Economy: Renewables, Tech and Leapfrogging Ahead": Anthony Nyong was recently named by Apolitical as one of the Top 20 of the 100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy. Nyong is the regional director of the Global Center on Adaptation, a major initiative funding $25-billion in green projects.

“Security and Climate Justice”: Naderev “Yeb” Madla Saño became a climate justice hero and face of UN climate talks in Warsaw. As then Commissioner of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, he gave an impassioned speech at COP after super-typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, and inspired 300 COP delegates to join him on a hunger strike in support of the victims of the typhoon. He is currently the executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

"Feeding a Healthy Planet": Agnes Kalibata is the UN’s special envoy for the Food Systems Summit and President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the leading institution for small-scale farming and agriculture in Africa, which was started under the chairmanship of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Additional sessions include “The History of COP,” “Towards Zero Waste: The Circular Economy, Data and Defining Climate Change,” “Healthy Planet = Healthy Populations,” and “The Nexus of Climate and Development,” in addition to cultural exchanges with climate advocates, entrepreneurs, and innovators.