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The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties, more commonly referred to as COP27, was the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference, held from 6 November until 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

This special commentary is by Tarique J. Rashaud, a senior board advisor for partnerships, investor engagement & sustainability strategy on the US-Business Council for Sustainable Development Executive Committee.

Mr. Rashaud also sits on the Texas A&M University National Science Foundation (NSF) Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Advisory Board, the Prairie View A&M University Industrial Advisory Board, and the Bossville Industrial Hemp Farms Board of Advisors.

Consistent with prior installments of the United Nations Conference of the Parties, UN COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt witnessed heads of state, mayors, civil society representatives, and corporate CEOs convene for the largest annual gathering on climate action.

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A central mission of the framework convention sought to build on the outcomes of COP26 for delivering executable strategies that are critical to tackling a multitude of climate change challenges -especially those which intersect at the Food-Water-Energy nexus including food insecurity, an ever-growing energy crisis, historic GHG emissions, and increased extreme climatic events.

However, unlike previous conventions of this status and import, COP27 gave voice to oft-excluded and muted voices – Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Fortunately, the yeoman’s effort and sweat equity of the Climate Equity Collaborative (CEC), National Wildlife Federation, and corporate partners yielded dividends – finally, HBCU students were afforded this esteemed platform and were able to contribute to the aforementioned multilateral climate-focused discussions.

For some time it’s been abundantly clear that in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and victoriously battle climate change, a more inclusive tent of research minds is necessary. In as much, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
present a virtually untapped and underutilized resource that must be engaged to make these goals a reality.

So, as an alum of Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), it was an honor to join IBM’s Sachin Gupta and a select group of PVAMU students (Akanimo Etokebe & K. Nathanial Hall) to address future climate, environmental, and energy justice leaders in the UN’s first-ever
Climate Justice Pavilion.

Climate Change Modalities – Diverse Perspectives Needed

Unsurprisingly, the Climate Equity Collaborative (CEC) student panel consisting of student ambassadors from Africa, Asia, North America, and others proved to be as astute as they were energized. The multimodality of negative climate change impacts must, in turn, be met with multimodal solutions. To that end, our future climate leaders, like those assembled by the CEC, must be equipped with the technological, commercial, and international dexterity required to unearth transformative systems-based solutions at the Food-Water-Energy Nexus.

Like most global citizens who live in those low-income and middle-income (LMIC) fenceline communities which bear the brunt of climate change effects, having grown up in Port Arthur, Texas’ fenceline communities I know the comorbidity of extreme climatic events and environmental justice challenges all too well.

Which is why for many of us hailing from these communities, the Department of Energy’s tapping of Tony Reames (North Carolina A&T University alum) as the Deputy Director for Energy Justice provides hope that a voice originating from similar socioeconomic conditions was given the gravitas to enact change on a federal level. Ideally, the academic curriculum available to students in similar desperately impacted communities will be optimized to prepare them to join us in this battle to thwart climate change along all of its impact vectors.

Need for Sustainability and Tech-based Curriculum

As was true in COP26, justified concerns and debate around Greenwashing reared its ugly head yet again at COP27. The increased need for assurance and truth in corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental, social, and governance (ESG), and sustainability reporting to mitigate greenwashing risk has become increasingly important as more companies announce their climate footprint, mitigation targets, and decarbonization strategies.

In response, the past year has seen the emergence of more tech-based international market players, like AgriLedger Inc., having value propositions for leveraging distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain technology (BCT) to optimize agricultural value chains while transparently validating decarbonization activities at the Food-Water Energy nexus. As such, the market need for a tech-savvy pipeline of talent is only expected to increase.

To best prepare HBCU students for these climate-focused careers in Sustainability and the burgeoning Green Economy, we must infuse educational curricula with rigorous coursework on sustainable climate action solutions which is also layered with content on emerging disruptive technologies like Blockchain, Ai, and Distributed Ledger Technologies.

These are the skill sets that will be in the highest demand for advancing increased emissions data transparency and providence across value chains. This fact was evidenced by COP27’s World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) hosted Partnership for Carbon Transparency (PACT) which underscored the need for technological solutions that enable informed, data-driven decision-making while ensuring trust in carbon accounting and reporting.

Foreseeing these needs on the industry horizon was the impetus behind spearheading the 2020 development of PVAMU’s industry-led course, “The Energy + Ai Nexus: A Systems Approach to Climate Change, Sustainability & Resilience”. Similar courses must be metastasized throughout the HBCU/Minority-serving institution (MSI) ecosystem in order to equip and prepare our students for these cutting-edge career opportunities.

Promising Private Sector HBCU Engagement & ESG Investing

The UN’s COP conventions are known to catalyze the formation of bilateral, cross-sectoral collaborations. Such Public-Private-Partnerships coupled with ESG Investing present unique opportunities to embolden the “S” in ESG.

Hopefully, the strategic outcomes of COP27’s bilateral discourse will prove that a corporation’s strategic goals for Social Impact (ESG) Investing and those which increase shareholder value no longer need be mutually exclusive undertakings. Thanks to maturing financial market frameworks and the multi-vectoral nature of systems-based climate change solutions, community-level stakeholders and private sector shareholders can now be true symbiotic co-stewards of climate-positive activities and investments.

The past year has seen promising corporate-level engagement and investment in HBCUs. Ranging from Shell’s $6MM investment in PVAMU for a Nature-Based-Solutions Research Center of Excellence, to the recent Entergy + United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) partnership for engaging HBCUs throughout their southern service region.

This latter HBCU engagement will be a decarbonization project for reducing Energy Poverty while bolstering resilience along the Gulf Coast via technologies like Solar, Modular low-flow hydropower, and/or CCUS. Features of the project may also include interfacial layering of energy systems data with selected atmospheric data for predictive climate analytics via Ai/ML.

Intellectual Space for Diversity of Majors

While increasing the pipeline of engineering and computer science talent is important, in order for HBCUs to help further develop the financial market frameworks and blur the equity lines between stakeholders and shareholders, sustainability curricula must be expanded beyond engineering and computer-science departments – interdepartmental collaboration is paramount.

Future climate leaders majoring in Business, Finance, and Agriculture must also be empowered through exposure to case studies involving Sustainable Finance, Climate-Smart Agriculture, Voluntary Carbon Markets, and carbon offset portfolio diversification (via Nature-Based + Technological -Based offset generation).

Post-COP27, job market demand for such multifaceted skill sets can be proved by the creation of new and disruptive Pre-IPO ventures like The Green Hedge Inc. whose racial and gender diversity is only eclipsed by the sectoral diversity of its founding members à la – Energy, Investment banking, Insurance, and FinTech/ Blockchain.

Offering university students more dynamic, interdepartmental, and modernized curriculum options is the best way to prepare all future climate leaders, HBCUs and otherwise, to contribute and succeed in the new Green Economy.

Hopefully, as COP27 comes to a close, one message should now be resoundingly clear. Climate Change is by no means an “over there” issue – it’s an everywhere issue. Neither is it a “they” problem – it’s a clear and present “we” problem. Its ill effects not only transcend geographical
borders, but also seeps past barriers of wealth, station, class, color, and political affiliation. So if there was ever a challenge that the global community can coalesce around – it is this one.

Enlisting HBCUs, Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs), and Minority-serving institutions (MSIs) in this global climate change battle will be a key step in moving us all closer to victory.

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