The first time I heard about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations’ 2030 global agenda, was last semester when I took the course Introduction to Sustainable Development and Cooperation by Professor Yoon Semee. Out of the three basic pillars—economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability—I was especially intrigued by the last one. Although I had previously heard about the dire consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather events and disappearing islands due to rising sea levels, when I watched apocalyptic disaster films like San Andreas (2015) and Geostorm (2017) I frankly felt that it was a slow-moving crisis too “fictitious sounding” to be related to my day to day life.
However, as I learned about the alarming projections of temperature rise due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and their direct threat to our survival, I realized how pressing the issue of climate change really was and the need to raise awareness. At the same time, I wondered what we could possibly do that would make a difference in the face of geopolitical obstacles. Certainly, the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has proven that one person’s actions can move millions to participate in the cause of climate action.
Yonsei Student Climate Action Network (YSCAN)
In Yonsei University, the student-led organization Yonsei Student Climate Action Network (YSCAN) has taken the initiative to raise awareness about global warming and foster climate action. Founded in 2017 by a student named Ace Apolonio from the College of Engineering and Professor Greg Brooks English, the student organization now comprises of 22 members divided into three main bodies: administration team, media team, and operations team. With the support of grants, such as the Institute for Global Engagement and Empowerment Social Engagement award, YSCAN conducts various activities for decarbonization both in Songdo and Sinchon campuses.
In May 2019, it held its first inaugural seminar, “Campus Decarbonization: A Local Solution to a Global Threat,” inviting guest speakers from other universities and environmental NGOs to inform students about climate change. YSCAN members continue to hold a series of open lectures integrating team-building activities, like holding UN simulations negotiating a climate change deal.
Their upcoming plans focus on reducing recyclable waste. YSCAN tentatively plans to hold a campaign for reducing paper use titled “Save the planet, Save paper” and propose to the university administration to incentivize double-sided printing by offering discounts, since it currently charges the same price for double and one-sided printing. Financial incentives seem to be an effective method given the increased use of tumblers after the discount of 600 won implemented in the Tresbien coffee shop chain on campus. YSCAN also plans to bring back the previous system of reusable cups in the library and to arrange flea markets at the end of the semester to reduce waste from students moving out of dorms. In the long-term, the organization plans to run research workshops with faculty members to lower the carbon footprint of campus facilities, for example, by starting a solar panel project to promote the use of renewable energy.
In an interview with current YSCAN President Elena Hristova, she emphasized the gravity of the climate change situation. She stated that “Entire island countries [are] already drowning, climate migrants are increasing, there will be shortages of food.” On that note, “climate change is something everyone should care about because it concerns you, your children, your dog, it concerns everybody.” We should be conscientious of the issue and take measures to engage in climate action. Albeit irreversible at this stage, we can mitigate the impact of climate change by changing small habits in our daily life.
When asked about some practical ways in which students could participate in climate action, she stated that “Just by using the metal straws, using your computer instead of paperback, switching to a plant-based diet once a week, opting for public transportation whenever possible and purchasing environmentally friendly products will make a big difference.”
We have yet to “translate” the SDGs into real life. It is crucial that we frame them as a moral obligation because in the end, as Dr. Jeffrey Sachs mentioned, “we are all breathing the same air with 400 ppm of CO2,” and neglecting these goals poses a global threat.
YSCAN currently meets every Thursday at 6 pm alternating between Sinchon and Songdo campuses. YSCAN welcomes anyone who is dedicated and passionate about climate action, recruiting members twice a year. To find more about YSCAN you can visit their social media accounts on facebook, instagram, and their website.