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University of Prince Edward Island: Breaking Ground in Climate Change Education 

UPEI offers the only Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Climate Change and Adaptation in the world

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I remember the first time I visited Greenwich in Prince Edward Island National Park," says Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the UPEI Climate Lab and interim associate dean of science for climate change and adaptation. "It's a stunning place, and is home to multiple protected ecosystems. You really couldn't have a more perfect setting to study and learn about the impact of climate change."

Last July, Dr. Fenech was in the front row of a community hall in St. Peters Bay, PEI, as president and vice-chancellor of UPEI Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, premier Dennis King and minister of veterans affairs and member of parliament for Cardigan Lawrence MacAulay announced the Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation.

The centre was a long time coming, and Dr. Fenech was there from the beginning. He remembers taking a call several years ago from Karen Jans, field unit superintendent of PEI National Park. "She saw there was an opportunity for collaboration between the park and the university, and of course she was 100 percent correct."

It was an idea that wouldn't go away. As Dr. Fenech worked on his headline-grabbing research examining climate change and coastal erosion on Prince Edward Island, plans kept moving ahead for collaboration with Parks Canada. Dr. Abd-El-Aziz and Dr. Fenech were establishing relationships and getting more people on board for the idea of a national centre that would make an impact at home and around the world.

"It was a nice feeling," said Dr. Fenech, "knowing I had the support of the university. This wasn't an easy process, but I always knew we'd make it happen. There was just too much excitement. I'd walk into someone's office in Ottawa, and they'd say, 'Why haven't we built this yet?'"

The project consists of a 45,000 square-foot research facility in St. Peters Bay. The facility will house state-of-the-art research centres, including the internationally recognized UPEI Climate Lab. It will also serve as a living laboratory with unlimited access to nearby wetlands, forests and coastal habitats directly affected by climate change.

"The centre has three main pillars," explained Dr. Fenech. "First, the school; UPEI offers the only Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Climate Change and Adaptation in the world. Students will spend the last two years of their degree studying at the centre in St. Peters. We'll also be adding graduate-level programs.

"Second," continued Dr. Fenech, "it's a professional training centre. There's great demand from all sectors for training in climate change and adaptation, from government, to contractors, to educators. We'll be delivering training programs at the centre."

"And finally, there's research; UPEI is already on the front edge of research, but we'll be diving even deeper in the areas of costal integrity, food safety and sustainability and animal and human health."

The first cohort of students in the bachelor's program will begin their third year in September 2020—a full year before the centre will be finished.

"They won't be missing out, believe me," said Dr. Fenech with a laugh. "We'll be working out of the national park's interpretive centre in Greenwich. It's a spectacular facility. We're designing an experiential delivery method of teaching. Those students are going to be in the field; they're going to be monitoring real environments, they're going to be flying drones, and they'll be working with cutting-edge technology. And, even better, they'll be working with Parks Canada staff."

Students will also do two placements with Parks Canada, learning, working and studying at parks across the country.

Dr. Adam Fenech has worked extensively in climate change since 1988, including as a member of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In addition to his duties at UPEI where he leads the UPEI School of Climate Change and Adaptation and the UPEI Climate Lab, Fenech teaches at the University of Toronto and the Smithsonian Institution and lectures regularly at universities across Canada and around the world.

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Vol 27, No 43
March 19, 2020

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