Masters' students will balance WSSD CO2 emissions

12 August 2002
WHEN the marketing material for the Master's programme in Environmental Management promised to empower them and build their skills, the 12 students currently on the course probably had no idea this would include being delegates and volunteers at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Master's programme is home to a diverse range of students from various disciplines, some already in established career paths. The group have been preparing (notwithstanding some challenging logistics) for the long drive to Johannesburg and a tough Summit schedule. This will include gathering information and perspectives from the Summit to be used as the basis for an individual journal paper they are expected to write as part of their coursework.

"In the final stage of the Master's programme students have to produce a journal paper on an aspect of environmental management and we have changed the timing of this paper to fit in with the Summit," programme convenor Richard Hill said.

The students will thus have from November to February to prepare their submissions. One of the flagship courses in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, the Masters programme, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1999. It is fitting that this student corps will be at the heart of the Summit's activities, for right at the top of the programme's list of aims is commitment to creating an understanding of key issues relating to the environment and sustainable development.

Depending on their interests, the students will attach themselves to specific events, such as the Ubuntu Village where exhibitors will demonstrate the critical contributions of science, technology and innovation to sustainable development, or the Water Dome with its exhibits by representatives, policymakers and manufacturers in the water-related sector.

The group will also be participating as volunteers for the Johannesburg Climate Legacy project (, run under the auspices of the IUCN (The World Conservation Union). They will be "off-setting" the estimated 500 000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the Summit (including those from air travel) through raising sponsorships for carbon reducing projects of the same magnitude in South Africa. A total of 27 proposed projects are currently being evaluated by the JCL Trust Fund, one of which is an energy (and water) efficient retrofit of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. This project is envisaged as a pilot scheme to deliver a template for reduce operating costs in hospitals throughout South Africa. Interestingly, no forestry projects are permitted: the focus is on reducing the use of energy, not absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

While the group joked about what they would have to wear as volunteers for the IUCN (Uniforms? Green overalls? Globe headdresses?), they will be engaged in an interesting if not unusual fund-raising exercise.

The message in the students' welcome pack when they joined the Master programme said: "We hope you have a rewarding and stimulating learning experience". The 12 students will certainly take this to heart and as one student said, "Our involvement at the WSSD may just help us to try and change the world!"

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