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Carbon Neutrality Campus Seminar

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Executive Summary

The "Carbon Neutrality Campus Seminar," held on February 16th, 2024, within the 8th Annual Academic Conference organized by the Sustainable University Network of Thailand (SUN Thailand) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, was a milestone event. Under the theme "Actions Toward a Carbon Neutral Society," Mahidol University, in collaboration with UNESCAP, facilitated a crucial dialogue on advancing Thai Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) towards carbon neutrality and net zero emissions. The seminar convened a distinguished panel of experts, including representatives from UNESCAP, National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council, and renowned academics, fostering a nexus of innovative strategies and collaboration to accelerate sustainability in campus operations and beyond. The discussions, characterized by a commitment to interdisciplinary research and curriculum evolution, delineated a strategic pathway towards embedding sustainability into the educational fabric, thereby strengthening Thailand's response to the global climate mandate. The seminar culminated in a unified commitment to actionable strategies, setting a robust framework for HEIs to actively contribute to Thailand's climate goals.


The "Carbon Neutrality Campus" seminar, a collaborative effort between Mahidol University and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), is part of the MU-UNESCAP Carbon Neutrality Campus Joint Unit. The joint unit's primary goal is to bring together experts and university administrators to raise awareness about net zero and carbon neutrality on campus. The primary objectives of the seminar were to assess the progress of Thai Higher Education Institutions in achieving carbon neutrality and net zero emissions and to facilitate collaboration among these institutions in establishing a clear pathway towards carbon neutrality on campus. The seminar aimed to identify innovative ideas and collaboration prospects to enhance the journey of Thai Higher Education Institutions towards carbon neutrality and net zero emissions. The structure of the seminar involved a panel discussion as the main platform for interaction and information exchange.
Key discussions led by esteemed panelists, including Ms. Hitomi Rankine from UNESCAP, Dr. Saravanee Sighthong from the National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council, Assoc. Prof. Kitikorn Charmondusit from Mahidol University, and Prof. Leong Yuen Yoong from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Networks (SDSN) and Sunway University, covered a wide range of topics from practical carbon neutrality efforts to global and local policies supporting such initiatives. The seminar underscored the urgent need for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the role of universities in fostering sustainable practices, and the significance of collaborative networks in achieving ambitious climate goals.

Detailed Overview

Seminar Title: Moving Towards Carbon Neutrality Campus

Date and Location: February 16th, 2024, King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, Parama meeting room, Graduate College, 12th floor Nawamintharashinee building.

Panel Discussion Time: 13:00 – 15:00

Panelist 1: Ms. Hitomi Rankine, Chief, Environment and Development Policy Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Panelist 2: Dr. Saravanee Sighthong, Division Director, National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council.

Panelist 3: Assoc. Prof. Kitikorn Charmondusit, Dean, Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University.

Panelist 4: Prof. Leong Yuen Yoong, Director, Sustainability Studies, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Networks (SDSN); Professor, Sunway University.

Moderator: Dr. Praewa Wongburi, Assistant to the Dean for Policy, Planning, and International Relations, Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University.

Panel Discussions:

Ms. Hitomi Rankine began the seminar by discussing the practical aspects of carbon neutrality and highlighting opportunities for collaboration. The work of UNESCAP is based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to limit global warming to below 1.5°C. The urgency is emphasized by the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, which calls for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, with additional targets for 2035 and 2050.
Achieving carbon neutrality involves reducing emissions, promoting the transition to cleaner energy, and addressing resource-intensive industries. Comprehensive efforts include strategies like urban cooling and enhancing the absorption of carbon through natural interventions. Frameworks guiding academic efforts on carbon neutrality, such as Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategies and Nationally Determined Contributions, play a crucial role.
Thailand's NDC agreement sets a clear goal, aiming for a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from projected business-as-usual (BAU) levels by 2030. This target may be increased up to a 40% reduction, conditional on the country's access to improved technological support, financial resources, and capacity-building assistance. This provides a transparent framework for communication with stakeholders.
In the quest for carbon neutrality, a key focus is on monitoring and reporting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This not only helps understand carbon neutrality efforts but also connects with stakeholders. Examining the role of the sustainability community requires a thorough evaluation of responsibilities related to supplier interactions, waste management, and the energy-intensive demand for various services. The network emphasizes careful examination of monitoring and reporting methods to determine the coverage scope, shaping the framework essential for guiding the network's initiatives.
Within the ESCAP framework, a crucial aspect involves evaluating the climate ambition of countries. This evaluation, based on assessing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), highlights a significant gap even if countries fully meet their NDCs in the region. This underscores the need for collaborative efforts to bridge this gap, recognizing the importance of shaping the required ambition levels to effectively tackle challenges related to insecurity, water security, and human security.
In the Thai context, the country stands out as a notable example, demonstrating a high level of commitment in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The emissions profile suggests that achieving reductions is potentially achievable. However, the feasibility of these reductions is still a topic of discussion, both in broader contexts and notably on university campuses. This discussion emphasizes the practical challenges and considerations involved in aligning with ambitious climate goals.
Another important aspect involves consistently reviewing emission reduction targets, where universities play a crucial role in sharing findings based on scientific research. It becomes essential to identify stakeholders willing to act for effective implementation. The potential contributions of universities within the wider energy network context were also explored.
Various energy provision models were discussed, comparing the traditional centralized network with emerging ones that incorporate renewable energy and blockchain technologies. The latter allows for peer-to-peer energy exchange, making the energy system more resilient. This prompts consideration of insights from this evolving energy system model to guide partnerships and interactions.
Success depends on aligning information, resource flows, and innovative approaches with ambitious emission reduction goals. The envisioned network model signifies a dynamic structure that mobilizes ideas, action, research, and facilitates the continuous progress of initiatives. This underscores the importance of a collaborative and forward-thinking approach. The UN's commitment to developing essential soft skills, as encapsulated in the UN 2.0 quintet of change, focusing on strategic foresight, behavioral science, results delivery, and performance understanding, was emphasized. These skills are considered crucial for navigating the complexities of achieving emission reduction goals.
The discussion highlights the importance of diverse skill sets, especially social science skills for human engineers, in finding the right balance between ambitious carbon neutrality goals and practical influence. The focus is on strategically positioning universities to ensure their societal impact is widely recognized. Mission orientation, particularly in the realms of the economy and financing within the ASEAN context, emerges as a critical role for academia in addressing carbon neutrality challenges. The network can contribute to widespread emissions reduction by emphasizing collaboration, joint capacity building, networking, and sustainable partnerships. An illustrative model of successful multilateral cooperation is showcased through the Regional Action Panel on Air Pollution for Asia and the Pacific, exemplifying collaborative efforts and attracting interest from development partners.
The achievement of securing funds through well-defined objectives, resulting in collaboration focused on infrastructure, was demonstrated in partnerships formed in the various states. Looking at a larger perspective, the discussion covered progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Southeast Asia, recognizing advancements in some areas but expressing worry about setbacks in climate goals. A convincing instance of successful partnership development was showcased through the Canada Ocean Supercluster model, which involved various stakeholders and received co-funding from the Canadian government. The presentation raises the question of whether a similar model could be adapted for initiatives related to carbon to encourage substantial action.
The session continued with a presentation by Dr. Saravanee Sighthong on Thailand's policies supporting universities in achieving carbon neutrality. The National Higher Education Science Research and Innovation Policy Council's role in overseeing higher education policies, guided by the Prime Minister and a committee, was discussed. The council engages globally as Thailand's designated entity for technology transfer under the UNFCCC, collaborating with international experts and securing funding for technology localization.
Various funding sources, including the Green Climate Fund, support mechanisms and produce reports. The recent Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) report outlines technology requirements for adaptation and mitigation in Thailand, prioritizing international support in line with UNFCCC standards. The Green Campus initiative, part of Thailand's university network for low emissions, focuses on policy formulation, deployment, and setting, recognizing universities' pivotal role in the zero-emission pathway.
The Green Campus program, initiated two years ago, involves a Net Zero system gap analysis and collaboration with university networks. The aim is to showcase progress in developing green campuses as part of the broader Net Zero ecosystem, emphasizing universities' role in innovation and collaborative solutions for a sustainable future. Workshops, including one with Mahidol University, facilitated policy dialogue and led to the development of the Green Campus initiative, fostering collaboration among universities.
The office plans to establish the Green Campus platform within the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT), involving 50 universities. Workshops, goal setting, a white paper summarizing results, and stakeholder engagement are part of the plan. The initiative aims to bring universities together to transition collectively towards carbon neutrality, fostering collaboration and providing resources and guidance.
Addressing data issues, the platform seeks internationally accepted methodologies for establishing carbon emission baselines and sharing best practices. It envisions a shared database platform for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through solar energy systems. The initiative sets a target for participating universities to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, focusing initially on CUPT members and expanding to other university networks.
Next, Associate Professor Dr. Kitikorn Charmondusit provided insights into practical measures for universities to promote sustainable resource management and curb greenhouse gas emissions. The discussion emphasized a collective approach among university members towards achieving carbon neutrality, recognizing variations in knowledge and resources. Collaboration and knowledge exchange emerged as key themes, crucial for attaining the mutual goal of carbon neutrality on university campuses.
The presentation also explored topics such as greenhouse gas emissions, carbon credits, and distinctions between carbon neutrality and net zero. It underscored the significance of emission reduction technologies, highlighting renewable energy and nature-based solutions.
Dr. Charmondusit expanded on the upcoming implementation of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) in Thailand, offering a detailed analysis of the CCUS supply chain. He emphasized the significance of a bottom-up approach, addressing challenges related to adaptation, and highlighting the necessity for collaboration between local and national levels. The goal is to provide a comprehensive perspective on sustainable practices and emission reduction strategies for universities.
The need to carry out processes for local development deployment was underscored, recognizing the university's strong performance in mitigation but identifying gaps in adapted development. A case study presented by the Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies focused on a community near a canal, resembling an island, known for cultivating the signature fruit, Pomelo. The faculty's involvement in rehabilitating Pomelo plantations post the 2011 flooding showcased a successful community-university partnership. The emphasis was on executing strategies for local development while acknowledging the university's role in mitigation efforts.
The session then explored the pivotal role of universities in advancing carbon neutrality and net-zero aspirations, emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary research, capacity building, and practical implementation of research findings. The presentation highlighted the crucial role of education and proposed adjustments to curricula to meet the increasing demand for green jobs. The operational scale of large
Thai universities, similar to towns or cities, were emphasized, underlining the importance of infrastructure support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Action Plan outlined 11 challenges for university members, covering various areas such as creating climate action plans, accounting for carbon credits or gas, and actively participating in policy development and advocacy. An illustrative example of the university's commitment to emission reduction, such as the installation of solar panels leading to a significant decrease in electricity consumption, was shared. Collaborative initiatives with UNESCAP to establish the Carbon Neutrality Campus platform were highlighted as a significant step, aiming to act as a catalyst for universities to formulate carbon neutrality policies and achieve their targets. The presentation concluded by extending an invitation for collaboration and participation in future activities related to the Carbon Neutrality Campus platform.
Professor Leong Yuen Yoong led the next discussion, highlighting successful projects and partnerships that have significantly contributed to achieving sustainable development goals. The discussion emphasized collective action on climate change that goes beyond national boundaries, involving non-state actors such as universities, colleges, corporations, and large institutions. These entities play a crucial role in setting targets and forming partnerships to achieve net-zero emissions, nurturing environmentally conscious students.
A collaborative initiative involving the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Climate Works Center, and Monash University has been instrumental in pooling expertise and forming a global network of academic institutions. The result is a comprehensive guide and online toolkit designed to assist universities and colleges in transitioning to Net Zero campuses. This guide not only emphasizes learning about sustainability but also incorporates practical steps for implementation. Beyond campus operations, the guide underscores the role of universities in championing decarbonization knowledge and research.
The "Future" project, a multi-year regional research effort involving SDSN, the Climate Works Center, and country teams across Southeast Asia, is a notable example. The project focuses on quantitative and qualitative climate policy analysis and development, offering valuable insights for policymakers. A critical aspect of this endeavor is the pursuit of decarbonization through the Science Panel for Southeast Asia (STSM). STSM recognizes the severe degradation of soil in Southeast Asia and is undertaking a paradigm shift in soil treatment, considering soil as a dynamic entity crucial for maintaining balance between microbes and plants. The proposed framework emphasizes necessary nutrients, microbial digestion, and soil cover, offering a holistic approach to soil fertility.
Universities are encouraged to act as living labs, accelerating the planning and implementation of Net Zero strategies. They can play a pivotal role in testing solutions and driving action within their communities. As the world observes World Water Day on 22 March, universities are urged to lead in building a circular blue economy, adopting decentralized approaches to strengthen water security and adaptability.
All in all, the examples presented underscore the pivotal role of universities in addressing climate change and fostering sustainability. By embracing the challenges and opportunities outlined in the guide, universities can not only reduce their carbon footprint but also inspire broader community engagement and contribute to a sustainable future.
Session Summaries:
The panel discussion concluded with recommendations acknowledging that the university, like large corporations, faces challenges in adhering to carbon footprint guidelines from organizations like Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization (Public Organization: TGO) due to the size of its structure and data. The complexity of the entire university system poses difficulties in implementing such guidelines.
To address this challenge, a suggestion for the development of a modified verification system tailored specifically for university and higher education communities was made. Drawing inspiration from the success of a previously implemented PA evaluation system for laboratory safety, this modified system aims to navigate the complexities of adhering to carbon footprint guidelines.
The initiative network established a target for participating universities to strive for carbon neutrality by 2040, necessitating a dedicated and dynamic team to manage the complexities involved. It underscores the importance of collaboration and support as fundamental in overcoming these sustainability challenges. The discussion also explored experiences in Malaysia regarding carbon neutrality initiatives, emphasizing the significance of networking and collaboration among institutions, governments, and the private sector.
Ultimately, the seminar echoed a strong endorsement for the ethos of 'network works with network,' advocating for the convergence of universities, irrespective of their progress, to encourage collective advancement. This collaborative approach is viewed as essential in realizing sustainable goals, harnessing the power of interconnected networks to amplify impact and drive meaningful change.
Key Findings and Learnings:
  • Thai HEIs as Key Players: Recognized for their essential role in global climate initiatives, emphasizing the need for significant GHG emission reductions.
  • Collaborative Networks' Power: Highlighted the urgent necessity for collaborative networks, stressing that "network works with network" for integrating sustainability into campus operations and curriculum more effectively.
  • Insights from Experts: Discussions led by UNESCAP, and other organizations provided valuable insights into achieving carbon neutrality, underscoring the role of universities in sustainability.
  • Enhanced Cross-Sector Collaboration: The seminar underscored the importance of networking and collaboration across institutions, governments, and the private sector, crucial for attaining sustainable goals. It championed a collaborative approach, aiming to unify universities, thereby promoting mutual growth and a strong dedication to actionable climate strategies.
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The "Carbon Neutrality Campus Seminar," held as a part of the 8th Annual Academic Conference by the Sustainable University Network of Thailand (SUN Thailand), concluded with a resonant call to action. Representatives from academia, industry, and policymaking, including Ms. Hitomi Rankine from UNESCAP, Dr. Saravanee Sighthong, Assoc. Prof. Kitikorn Charmondusit, and Prof. Leong Yuen Yoong, provided invaluable perspectives on the multi-faceted approach required to achieve carbon neutrality in higher education institutions.
The commitment to transition towards carbon-neutral campuses was not only articulated but also bolstered by the clear identification of actionable strategies and collaboration prospects. The seminar recognized the pivotal role of HEIs in orchestrating change, from integrating sustainability into curricula to fostering research that addresses the pressing global demand for greener economies.
The seminar underscored the necessity of bridging technological, infrastructural, and knowledge gaps, reflecting on the ambitious yet attainable national targets set by Thailand's updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). It also highlighted the importance of monitoring and reporting mechanisms to track progress and ensure transparency and accountability in HEIs' contributions to the country's climate goals.
As the proceedings drew to a close, the collective ethos of innovation, collaboration, and unwavering dedication to sustainability was palpable. The seminar did not mark an end but the beginning of a renewed, unified, and vigorous pursuit of carbon neutrality—a testament to the power of collective effort and the indomitable spirit of learning institutions leading the charge towards a more sustainable future.

Contact Information:

Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, Mahidol University, 999 Phutthamonthon 4 Road, Salaya, Phutthamonthon Nakhon Pathom, 73170 Tel. +66 2441 5000 Ext. 2104 Fax: 66 2441 9509-10

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