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Green means go at MDX as Dubai campus hosts COP Climate Law conference with Cambridge University

Sustainability is at the heart of the MDX ethos and it is a guiding light for future of universities, say academics

Delegates are welcomed to the Climate Law symposium at Middlesex University's Dubai campus

Delegates are welcomed to the Climate Law conference at Middlesex University's Dubai campus

MDX is playing a prominent role at COP28, underlining a deep and growing engagement with sustainability across the university’s campuses, research and teaching.

On Tuesday 5th December, MDX Dubai co-hosted a conference for Climate Law and Governance Day (CLGD 2023) in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, University of Dubai and international humanitarian consortium the Climate Law and Governance Initiative (CLGI), plus other academic, industry and government partners. The event brought together diverse agencies to knowledge-share and spark ideas, with a focus on how different sectors can apply levers to develop a legal framework to achieve the aims of COP and the Paris Agreement.

Pro-Vice Chancellor and Director of MDX Dubai Professor Cedwyn Fernandes and Professor Cody Morris, Deputy Director and Head of the Business School at Dubai campus opened the conference. Professor Tenia Kyriazi, Deputy Director and Head of Law and Politics at MDX Dubai co-chaired the closing session. Dr Sreejith Balasubramanian of MDX Centre for Supply Chain Research and Senior Law Lecturer Mahine Rizvi Ahmad co-chaired a panel on the financial and legal frameworks for the UAE’s transition to Net Zero in 2050.

"At Middlesex University Dubai, we engage students with the most contemporary global challenges." Professor Tenia Kyriazi

The conference featured student work from a range of departments reflecting the overall focus of the University in terms of embedding sustainability. Students from Fashion, Graphic Design, Media and Marketing showcased projects and the Student Research Committee featured past and new student research projects from across disciplines with a focus on sustainability, protection of the environment and climate change. Students attended conference panels as rapporteurs and moderators.

Professor Tenia Kyriazi says: “At Middlesex University Dubai, we engage students with the most contemporary global challenges, through learning and teaching, research and, most crucially, with co-curricular and extra-curricular initiatives that enable them to put knowledge into action. We are delighted to be hosting Climate Law and Governance Day at our Campus during COP28, and be part of this growing climate change movement.”

Middlesex University's Dubai campus hosts a symposium on Climate Law

Middlesex University's Dubai campus hosts a symposium on Climate Law

The audience at the Climate Law symposium at Middlesex University's Dubai campus

The event was well attended

In London, Dr Homeira Shayesteh, a Senior Lecturer in Construction, Architecture and BIM, has played a pioneering role aligning academic programs with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. This initiative was initially undertaken two years ago during the revalidation of the BSc Architectural Technology programme, on which Homeira serves as Programme Leader.

This effort came right after the introduction of the new 10-year university strategy, in which Sustainability is one of the three overarching themes.

The validation panel commended Homeira for her UNSDGs work and Deputy Dean Professor Gareth Williams, who chaired it, asked her for a template to encourage Arts & Creative Industries academics to follow her approach. Later on, Homeira teamed up with colleagues to make an educational enhancement bid, which led to a curriculum development survey that attracted good levels of engagement.

“I was so happy, that Architectural Technology was the first programme we did [the mapping] for” says Homeira, who praises the democratic principles and opportunities of the university strategy. Through the mapping work, Homeira also hopes to create demand from those she is teaching: “I want them to come and tell me where can I get more knowledge,” she says, underscoring her commitment to fostering student interest and involvement in sustainability-related initiatives.

Students starting at MDX “may not necessarily know about the UN SDGs... But they really understand actions have an impact and the consequences of their actions,” she says. Homeira asks new students to do a presentation on a vernacular house design, from a country where they have family links or just something that appeals to them, which she says is educational for her too as the class explores the features of housing types around the world from Romania to Japan.

One assignment she sets second year students is a sustainability analysis of their main design studio module, where she asks them to identify which individual or multiple UN SDGs each aspect of the scheme addresses. “It goes across the whole report,” she says. “This is about sustainable community elements, like walking to schools, shops and the doctor’s. It’s not only about a beautiful building, it’s about communities”. It’s the thought process that goes into this rather than ‘right answers’ which she’s looking for, she says (she’s also working on a system that shows how deeply an SDG has been satisfied).

She has given students the task of designing plans to retrofit buildings on Hendon campus, beginning with Sunny Hill House in September 2017, and more recently looking at embodied carbon in the 1950s Williams Building and a pilot project on delivering energy efficiency enhancements in the state-of-the-art Ritterman Building.

With proposed improvements of this kind, “it’s not as easy as one, two, three, and then it’s going to be good,” Homeira says. “[Interventions] have contradictory effects on each other”. A wider problem to overcome, she says, is that “if you have a house that’s old, draughty and you want to demolish it and build a new one, it’s exempt from VAT. If you want to retrofit - just refurbish it and make it better - you don’t get 20% off VAT. You need to be very climate aware to [look beyond] that 20% and do a retrofit”.

Other projects she has devised for students include planning a redesign of the toilet block in the Town Hall Extension on a more gender equitable basis, and the creation in 2019 of a sustainable, multi-use Living Pavilion on campus.

Lanyards are prepared for visitors to the Climate Law symposium

Lanyards are prepared for visitors to the Climate Law symposium

People arrive for the Climate Law symposium at Middlesex University's Dubai campus

People arrive for the conference

Theme Director for Sustainability at MDX London Professor Johan Siebers, who is personally involved in the cross-disciplinary research-driven Future of UK Treescapes programme, says that looking at MDX’s integrated themes, “it is really clear that sustainability and social justice - fair work for everyone - are two sides of the same coin". This fits into the long-standing MDX tradition of commitment to working with oppressed groups and “trying to improve knowledge and the world in a very concrete way”, he says.

Johan suggests there is a moral dimension in sustainability which is “about self-worth and [the sense] that our agency is sufficient to deal with things.

“There's a real link to mental health. Young people are suffering from anxiety, often climate anxiety. We can see how destructive catastrophising discourses are.

“Universities in this century have a huge role to play to foster mindsets, think more sustainably and more equitably, in a less colonial, patriarchal way”. He hopes that we’re “not just at moment where oil is peaking but that the sense of despair is peaking, and there’s a new sense of hope and agency”.

Homeira says she is acutely aware when teaching of the estimated 40% of carbon emissions which come from the built environment and the construction industry and that she wants to open her students’ eyes to this.

She thinks holding COP in UAE has high impact potential, as it brings arguments about sustainability to the region which is the bedrock of the oil and gas sector. She hopes to bring students the message that “we shouldn’t be disheartened and lose hope about climate change - young people can be agents of change”.

Last week on the eve of COP, submissions closed for the BarNET ZERO Challenge which MDX has launched with Barnet Council to promote innovative sustainable business and community ideas and practical solutions for reducing carbon emissions. Shortlisted candidates can take part in workshops next February before having the chance to compete for a £5000 cash first prize. The follows the launch of Barnet Council’s first ever Citizens Assembly on climate change and biodiversity earlier in the year.

Sustainability has consistently been a key focus at MDX Dubai, with an eye to outcomes that positively impact the future for students and staff, the wider community and the city. The university is the first in UAE to report its sustainability practices to the UN Global Compact Local Network UAE.

In the run-up to CLDG 2023, sustainability-themed workshops, events, and panel discussions have been held on Dubai campus, including a Sustainability and Waste Recycling Symposium on 8 November in partnership with the Middle East's only integrated waste recycling hub Enviroserve UAE and recycled plastic material manufacturer DGRADE. Earlier in 2023, the university held a two-day sustainability festival, For the Love of the Planet, during which 425 clothing items were saved from landfill.

The 5 December conference follows MDX Dubai’s support for the 2023 edition of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Forum in October, with MDX faculty members officially contributing to many of the discussion on subjects including sustainable growth and infrastructure, and more than 120 MDX student volunteers.

MDX Dubai is a member of the Universities Climate Network, which aims to facilitate increased contributions to COP28 on the levels of both youth engagement and scientific research. MDX Dubai students have the exceptional opportunity of attending the UN-managed Blue Zone at COP, where the official sessions and press conferences take place, seeing at first-hand how the UN System works.

Andrew Mackenzie, Head of the Institute of Sustainable Development at MDX Dubai said: “The UAE has already made significant progress in reducing its emissions and developing new technologies and solutions to address climate change. MDX Dubai contributes to this effort by being a thought leader in sustainable development and driving the advancement of sustainable mindsets in our students, industry, and higher education initiatives.

"COP28 is a chance to showcase these efforts and inspire other institutions and countries to take action."

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