Sharing the passion to change the world – empowering students to curb climate change
A discussion with the Programme Coordinator of the MDP in Environmental Policy and Law, Tuomas Palosaari, by Mari Moilanen
“The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future. The next few years are probably the most important in our history”, said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, in the press release of the world’s most significant climate report in October, 2018.
In the aftermath, the coordinator of the MDP in Environmental Policy and Law, Tuomas Palosaari, describes the skills that the MDP students develop during their studies to act for a better future.
What do you do, Tuomas?
I’m a lecturer as well as the Coordinator of the Master’s degree programme in Environmental Policy and Law. I take care of many kinds of tasks related to planning, admission, student counselling and lecturing.
I’m also a graduate from the same programme. During my Bachelor’s studies in Finnish environmental law I got more and more interested in global aspects, so I applied to this programme since it fit perfectly my interests and ambitions. And now I’m continuing that path as the coordinator, while at the same time planning my PhD on international environmental law.
What are you passionate about in your field?
I’m interested in the big picture: what is the state of international environmental law, why is it as it is, and where are we going? Climate change plays a central role in every environmental discussion today, making it a natural focus for me. Although I’m from the inland of Finland, I’m also very interested in maritime law. The high seas are kind of a wild west: full of possibilities as well as global risks.
Climate change is a prominent part of the studies – how does it show in practice?
Climate change is interlinked with practically all environmental issues we face today – from biodiversity loss to ozone depletion and air pollution. We offer a variety of courses directly or indirectly related to climate change. We have a specific course on climate change law and policy, but the topic is also addressed in courses on trade and the environment, international forest policy and law, international water law, and so on. Our staff and visiting experts include several professionals working at the centre stage of global climate action, and that knowledge is a valuable asset to pass to new generations of professionals.
However, climate change is not the only focal area. Students have a lot of freedom in planning their studies, and they can choose to focus on, for example, sustainable development, energy policy, natural resources governance or conflict resolution.
What is the current state of our climate? Why do we need more professionals to facilitate quick and drastic action?
We all know the situation is certainly alarming. The recent IPCC report urged the world to take rapid and far-reaching actions to keep the rise of global temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius, or else the natural and human systems will face serious consequences. It’s not a very encouraging report, but it makes it clear that we all need to do more than we are currently doing and be more ambitious.
What kind of thoughts do the students have on climate change issues? How is the international political turmoil reflected in the classroom?
I think that the news we have to read today on climate change and its consequences work as a catalyst for many of our students. For instance, the reactions to Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris agreement have been strong in class and many times students wonder why international laws can’t force the States to do more to curb climate change. There’s frustration but, what’s more important, there’s enthusiasm to change things among our students.
However, it is important to place political developments – from the Trump administration to China’s rise in the world – in their context. Therefore our MDP seeks to provide students with the knowledge they need to understand what the true impacts of such political developments can be, what the ongoing value of international law is, and how other countries, non-state actors and subnational authorities can respond in the face of countries threatening to withdraw.
How does the MDP strive to support students’ personal passion to take concrete action in curbing climate change?
Our students are usually already very motivated when they apply for the programme. However, they may not be aware of all the things that are available to them to contribute.
I think that is our main job: to give the right tools and knowledge for the students to pursue their own interests and make a change: whether it’s in governments, the private sector, civil society or through further academic studies. We encourage discussion and the transfer of ideas, and that is why we have a lot of contact teaching and arrange for interactive discussions in our studies.
What can we do as individuals?
Especially with modern technologies and means of communication, I think it is an outdated way of thinking that individuals do not have an impact, and that we are simply passengers in political turmoil. We can all contribute small parts, like cogs in a big machine. But it requires an understanding of the problems and mastering the knowledge and skills to respond to those problems.