An IPCC SR (2018) identifies urbanization as a key GHG emission driver, while also recognizing a broad variety of mitigation options yet underexplored, in particular in the Global South. Development of Green & Blue Infrastructure. (GBI), as well as promotion of ecosystem services and biodiversity in urban areas through nature-based-solutions (NBS), is seen as a way to develop climate-proof cities (IPCC, 2018) as well as to increase livability through the provision of affordable recreation, sanitation & stormwater drainage (SDG 11, UN GA/RES/70/1).
Urban sprawl takes a particularly challenging scale in Asia: attracted by the promise of economic opportunities associate with cities or fleeing from hardships associated with conflicts & environmental degradation, most new city dwellers are facing socio-economic segregation entailing limited access to sanitation & water supply, urban recreation, as well as higher exposure to weather extremes. NBS, although universally recognized as an opportunity for the development of resilient & liveable cities, is still in limited use as an urban planning & management tool. To overcome this, especially as regards cross-sectoral integration, policy relevance, and timely uptake of the freshest practices and solutions, Asian countries urgently need to boost their national expertise. This can be achieved through the integration of academic communities with praxis stakeholder groups, fast & efficient internationalization of research & education, but also through closer cooperation within a region, where knowledge exchange is still suboptimal, even between neighboring countries (IPBES, 2018).
To achieve an in-depth understanding of enabling conditions for GBI & NBS and related capacity gaps, in particular as regards educational provision & labor market expectations, URGENT initiative groups ran surveys in 4 locations across India and 2 in Mongolia. In September-December 2019, survey outcomes were discussed in joint stakeholder-academia workshops sessions. Based on survey results, the 5 URGENT cross-cutting themes were offered to experts as a basis of a discussion on needs and capacities:
INDIA’s cities are projected to be home to over 800 million by 2050 that calls for urgent action for creating liveable and climate change resilient habitats. Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Heritage City Development & Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) schemes have been launched for improving the infrastructure aspects, while independent initiatives, such as Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) are evolving as planning frameworks promoting sustainable habitats in the Indian context. Yet all these developments as well as the capacity of HEIs appear to be beyond the scale and the pace of urbanization in India, as participants of the Indian national workshop agreed. The consensus was that although potentially the labor market receives enough graduates, and while the basic technical knowledge base is robust, there are shortcomings related to some key competencies required by employers, especially emerging ones, such as:
The meeting endorsed the 5 URGENT themes and brought forward a new one – Management & planning of resilient urban seascapes & coasts. Based on them, meeting participants came up with specific proposals for each partner Higher Education institution (HEI), appreciating their profiles & capacity as well as the commitment of non-HEI partners; a high role of quality Ph.D. training was recognized, with international & policy relevance of Ph.D. theses agreed as an important objective yet to achieve; cooperation with stakeholders needs to be properly institutionalized to create a stable exchange of knowledge and insights between the academia & workplace. The meeting agreed that more interactive and self-reflective modes of teaching & learning to the classroom are needed to develop missing competencies. All the partners need major ICT upgrades to build capacity for virtual mobility and to support blended learning.
P11 Jawaharlal Nehru University is India’s best-ranked comprehensive university that is, however, currently struggling with developing policy-relevant educational content & blended learning environments, as brought forward in its revised strategy. P11’s School of Environmental Sciences is revising its curricula with liveable & resilient cities identified as a focus area. The revision will address MSc programs in Environmental Sci. and Disaster Studies within all the 6 URGENT topics; a total of 26 ECTS suggested to develop or update with 9 staff needed to get (re-)trained, also in order to develop e-learning capacity, as this is only starting at P11.
P12 Nirma University is a new private university that just started to add applied science & arts to its curriculum offer, including the Institute of Architecture & Planning established in 2017. Its survival strategy is to become competitive on the tough HE market, most of all through innovative content & learning environments, as well as institutionalized links to the labor market. P12 needs a major capacity input to develop & update 34ECTS of LLL, BSc, MSs & Ph.D. subjects within 5 URGENT topics, set up an e-learning system, and link to employers. This will require retraining of 10 staff, and teaching & networking equipment.
P13 Pondicherry University is a classical university striving to maintain its visibility in southern India and extend it to the national level; it will develop or update 23 ECTS of its MSc programs in Ecology and in Environmental Sciences within 4 URGENT topics, launch an e-learning system, and link to stakeholders concerned with the quality of urban environments; 7 staff need to re-trained, and research training & networking equipment installed.
P14 Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir is the leading Kashmir center of excellence in agriculture & forestry. Due to its peripheral location, it is struggling to maintain a high-quality student body, and therefore needs to excel in innovation and relevance to the state and broader labor markets; its BSc, MSc & Ph.D. programs in forestry will receive 15ECTS of innovative GBI-related contents, e-learning will be launched and links to employers set up; 9 staff need to re-trained, and research training & networking equipment installed.
MONGOLIA’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, concentrated 47.2% of the country’s population in 2019, and grew by 4% annually since 2001, as the nomad population was forced to move in, mostly by catastrophic cold spells and droughts. The city was not prepared for rapid growth either in terms of physical or governance infrastructure, and the outcomes are poor access to utilities, extreme levels of air pollution & aquifer contamination. Mongolia Sustainable Development Vision 2030 (State Great Hural, Res.19/5.02.2016) puts the development of healthy and climate-resilient capital areas, as well as converting of other MN cities to attractive and comfortable habitats (in order to halt mass migration to Ulaanbaatar) among key priorities, and tasks HEIs with creating relevant national expertise and feeding current & foreseeable labor market demands. To discuss these demands as regards the development of GBI for healthy & climate-smart cities, possible responses & missing capacities at HEIs, the URGENT initiative group arranged workshops in Khovd & Ulaanbaatar in September 2019. Stakeholders agreed with the high urgency of all the URGENT cross-cutting themes (except the coastal one suggested by India colleagues), agreed on their Mongolia-specific contents. Structurally, the situation at the Mongolian labor market is similar to India: while the inflow of graduates is sufficient to meet current demands, the emerging competencies need to be significantly enhanced, in particular where cross-disciplinary aspects are involved, and the solutions & support actions are deemed the same. This cannot be achieved through the subsidies of the state and own income, which are too low & irregular to create any significant capacity.
P5 National University of Mongolia has the national status and is tasked with the mission of being a center of excellence in any research or praxis field prioritized by the government or foreseen as an important one by society. In addition, the government wants P5 to become an important player in a broader region and to develop cutting-edge learning environments. URGENT supports this with 15 ECTS updated within 5 URGENT themes, equipment needed to enhance learning, and 10 staff to (re-)train.
P6 Khovd University is a classical university in western MN; not being a “national” university, it is seriously underfunded and needs external support to develop its focus on nomadic resilience (including urban) and retain talents in the region; under URGENT it will update its B/MSc programs in Ecology, Geography, Land Management with 12 ECTS of GBI&NBS-related disciplines and enhance its e-learning; this requires 8 staff to (re-train) and equipment upgrade.
P7 Mongolian University of Life Sciences is the MN-only HEI focusing on forestry & agriculture; while its niche is to furnish environmental knowledge to the graduates directly taken up by the sector, it struggles to develop teaching and research profiles in GBI&NBS, as this, although increasingly demanded, was not within the sectoral mainstream. URGENT is essential in updating P7’s BSc & MSc landscape architecture programs with 26 ECTS adhering to 4 URGENT themes; this will require (re-) training of 6 staff and research training equipment upgrade.