Meet the community climate change champion helping launch a groundbreaking new graduate program.

Sarah Burch

By Suzanne Bowness

While the world looks to international organizations to reduce our global carbon footprint, Sarah Burch says innovative climate change initiatives happen at the local level.

”There are cool examples around the world of cities taking action to transform the way they function, whether it is in developing sustainable transportation or building standards - a lot of this comes to roost at the city scale,” says Burch, a professor who is joining the Department of Geography and Environmental Management in the Faculty of Environment.

Burch is joining the department to help launch the new Masters of Climate Change (MCC) program. The MCC provides a unique interdisciplinary experience for students and professionals interested in the evolving field of climate change.

“I am taken with fact that it seems like cities and communities are where all of this becomes real. That’s where it’s tangible and where innovation is happening,” says Burch who will teach a core course on mitigation, (greenhouse gas reduction and carbon sequestration), as well as an elective on climate compatible development.

Global frustration

Burch says her interest in the local grew in part out of a frustration with hurdles at the international level, such as Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

“In contrast to a lot of governance scholars who focus on international negotiations such as the Kyoto protocol, I tend to focus on cities, on who participates, and how we get deeper, more effective and equitable participation in climate-change decision-making. I also started working on the role of small business and entrepreneurs to understand what role they can play in coming up with solutions to climate change and how to support that,” says Burch.

Waterloo’s new climate change degree

The new master’s program is comprised of three core courses that mirror the three working groups of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Physical Science Basis, Vulnerability and Adaptation, and Mitigation. Students also choose three electives in an area of concentration, two open electives, and finish the three-term program with a major research paper or an internship.

Burch says the new program’s experiential learning really resonates with her she’s eager to get started. “It makes sense for work like mine to be in an environment faculty rather than be slotted into more traditional faculty of arts or science. I really enjoy the total appetite for and appreciation of interdisciplinarity.”