From 4 November 2021 to 30 January 2022, Commonwealth Alumni Farwa Tassaduq and Sana Ilyas delivered a short virtual course titled ‘Understanding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to Respond to Climate Change’. The course was designed to equip new graduates and young professionals in Pakistan from different fields with the skills and knowledge to address climate change in their projects by focusing on the SDGs. The course was delivered over 12 sessions, with each session lasting two hours.

Farwa is the Co-founder and CEO of One Earth Toys and also works as a consultant for the environment and education-related projects. Sana is currently a Research Associate/Post-Doctoral Fellow under SDGnexus Network, Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers, Uzbekistan, and Justus Leibig University, Germany.

With the Himalayas and Karakarom mountain ranges in the north and west, a coastal belt in the south, deserts in the south and south-east, and rich agricultural land in the central and eastern parts of the country, the typography of Pakistan is varied. Such variation means that Pakistan has diverse weather conditions and flora and fauna. It is therefore affected by climate change in multiple ways.

According to German Watch Global Climate Change Index 2021, Pakistan was one of the top ten countries affected by climate change from 2000 to 2019. The report states that Pakistan has faced 173 extreme climatic events, has lost 0.52 percent per unit GDP and suffered economic losses worth US$ 3771.91 million during these 20 years. The Asian Development Bank states that the cost of climate adaptation for Pakistan can range between $7 billion and $14 billion per year.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to tackle some of the most prevalent development challenges globally. The 17 Goals were adopted by all UN Members States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Whilst there has been an increasing awareness of the SDGs in Pakistan through their application in public and private sector work, young professionals can find it challenging to understand the technical terms used in the targets and how to apply the SDG targets in their work and projects to ensure they are supporting the Goals.

This lack of understanding has meant that some practitioners working in the environmental field are addressing a more limited number of Goals through their work than necessary. For example, their work may directly address SDGs 14 and 15 (Life below water and Life on land), however consideration may not be given to how their work could also address SDGs 10 and 11 (Reduced inequalities and Sustainable cities and communities).

Setting up the course

25 participants were selected to join the short course and they completed the 12 sessions over a period of six weeks. Following completion of the course, participants were given four weeks to implement the knowledge gained and design a project proposal which addressed the SDGs in their area of work.

Through the course, participants were introduced to the theory, research, and good practices required to respond to climate change issues in Pakistan in their respective fields by addressing the SDGs. The short course helped participants in learning to analyse the social impact of environmental and climate change policies and how they support the 17 SDGs.

The course was targeted at recent graduates, early professionals, and graduating students. Participants represented the Sciences and Humanities fields, with the majority coming from the Environmental Sciences. This multi-disciplinary group enabled diverse and in-depth discussions about climate issues and the SDGs in Pakistan from a range of perspectives. Participants joined from 7 cities in Pakistan and one participant joined from the Disputed Territory of Kashmir in India.

The group was chosen for their passion and ability to develop innovative ideas for social and environmental good. The course directed them to design and implement their climate change-related solutions addressing the SDGs and provided support and guidance on SDGs often missing in their educational institutes.

Environment, society and economics: the key themes

Together, Farwa and Sana developed the overall course content by identifying the topics to be covered. These were broadly segmented into three themes: environment, society, and economics. Each session was designed to provide a 30-40 mins online activity in the form of discussions and breakout rooms, with time reserved for Q&A during the session.

Sessions were taught by different practitioners of the SDGs in Pakistan. They provided both a range of expert presentations and perspectives, as well as networking opportunities for participants to connect with professionals in their field. To identify appropriate speakers and promote applications to relevant audiences, Farwa and Sana partnered with Greenkeepers and Project Procurement International. You can read about each of the speakers and their sessions here.

The course opened with a session on the Introduction to the SDGs, which provided an overview on the origin of the SDGs and concepts related to each Goal and its targets. Under the theme of environment, subsequent sessions introduced the concepts of natural and human-driven changes such as the greenhouse effect, climate change, oceanic salinisation, and human-driven land-use changes due to extensive clearing and conversion to agriculture.

Addressing the theme of society, the next set of sessions highlighted the impact of climate change on gender indicators and demographics. This included discussions on economic resources and basic services, values and behaviour change, and governance and decision making.

The final theme of the sessions was economics. These sessions introduced participants to concepts around eco-entrepreneurship for climate change, natural resource auditing and the role of industry, and carbon auditing.

The final session of the course addressed SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. It presented the multi-stakeholder partnerships in Pakistan that support the achievement of the SDGs and especially those directly linked to climate change.

Evaluating the Course

18 participants successfully completed the short course and submitted a project proposal to address the SDGs in their work. All those who completed were asked to complete a post-course feedback survey, designed to assess the effectiveness of the course.

77% of respondents ranked the course ‘Excellent’ and all respondents rated the course content between ‘Useful’ and ‘Extremely useful’. The level of knowledge and teaching style of the course were also well received.

‘Overall, the entire course was amazing and the way all the presenters present their word and share their experiences were fantastic it was an informative and full of knowledge-based course and I learned a lot from this course.’ – Participant

100% of respondents replied that they would recommend the course to others and were keen to stay up to date about any future courses that may be developed. Based on feedback from participants and presenters, Farwa and Sana are planning to update the course and deliver paid sessions in future.