June 19, 2020
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Future Earth has partnered with Concordia University to launch a scientific training program for students at the intersection of environmental science and digital innovation. The Leadership in Environmental and Digital Innovation for Sustainability (LEADS) program will further research on climate, system-based approaches to sustainable development and digital innovation, while developing the careers of students and postdoctoral fellows entering the global sustainability community.
The program received $1.65 million in funding, to be distributed over six years, from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program.
The first cohort of students is set to begin online training in fall 2020. In addition to acquiring theoretical skills in data analytics and digital communication, trainees will work on Canadian and international initiatives mobilized by Future Earth’s global network, especially Sustainability in the Digital Age and the Science-Based Pathways for Sustainability Initiative.
“Future Earth is thrilled to co-lead the LEADS program together with the incredible team of partners at Concordia University and other collaborators across Quebec,” says Amy Luers, Executive Director of Future Earth.
Luers further highlighted the importance of this program to train leaders that can tackle the sustainability challenges of the 21st century. She explained: “Humanity today is interconnected through, and dependent on, both the digital and natural worlds, creating massive opportunities and equally large challenges. This new program will train the next generation of sustainability leaders to be bilingual in both the digital and sustainability issues.”
The program is also being spearheaded by Damon Matthews, Concordia University Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability. Dr. Matthews is recognized internationally for his work in policy-relevant climate science, as well as for initiatives such as the Climate Clock and Pledge to Lead that use digital visualization and web-based technologies to motivate and accelerate climate action.
As Matthews observes, for students entering this field post-COVID-19, digital literacy and collaboration across disciplines will be critical for sustainability efforts. While lockdowns triggered temporary dips in carbon emissions, the pandemic still had a visibly disproportionate impact on societies that were already more vulnerable and less resilient. Similarly, climate and other environmental changes pose a larger threat to those with fewer resources with which to respond and protect themselves.
“It is more important than ever that we learn from our current COVID-19 experiences, and apply what we are learning about society’s strengths and vulnerabilities to work towards solving the other sustainability challenges that are continuing unchecked,” says Matthews. “Through this program, we will train a new generation of sustainability leaders to harness the power of digital tools and accelerate the transition towards global sustainability.”