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United Nations University Hub opens at U of Calgary

UN think tank will tap into water expertise at the Alberta-based university.


The University of Calgary is now home to the world’s first United Nations University (UNU) Hub after partnering with the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) at McMaster University.

Martyn Clark, interim executive director of the UNU Hub, which launched in December, said he was approached about a partnership last year by UNU-INWEH’s new director, Kaveh Madani, who set out to expand its research capacity by tapping into water expertise elsewhere in Canada.

Founded in Tokyo in 1975, the UN’s university system consists of 13 global institutes in 12 countries. UNU campuses specialize in areas of study relevant to the international governmental organization’s general mandates: international peace and security, social change and economic development, and environment, climate and energy.

Kaveh Madani, director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, at the launch ceremony of the new hub at the University of Calgary. Photo courtesy of Kaveh Madani

“The U of Calgary is well-known for its research in water,” said Dr. Clark, interim executive director of the UNU Hub. “It’s been doing a lot of work [with] sustainable water systems and to understand how to better manage water resources in the face of climate change.”

The new UNU Hub on Empowering Communities to Adapt to Climate Change will connect U of Calgary water researchers to scholars at the UNU-INWEH, as well as throughout the UNU system. One of the hub’s mandates is to bridge the gap between academic research and policy development “to provide solutions that can help us increase our climate resilience,” he said.

The research areas will be broken into clusters, with In addition to conducting research and identifying policy solutions, the hub will offer specialized training to students. Currently, Dr. Clark and his team are developing a number of joint-degree programs and certificates for students.

The hub will focus on four specific areas of water research. Dr. Clark, who holds a Schulich Research Chair in Environmental Prediction will be leading the work on environmental predictions for water sustainability. His colleagues Kelly Munkittrick and Herman Barkema will lead the clusters on understanding changes in aquatic ecosystems and evaluating risks of infectious diseases in a changing climate, respectively. The fourth cluster will focus on building resilience in Indigenous communities and will be led by Deborah McGregor, who was recently awarded a Canada Excellence Research Chair in Indigenous ways of climate and water sustainability for planetary health and well-being.

While the hub is funded by an operating budget provided by the university, Dr. Clark emphasized that researchers can also apply for funding from development banks that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, including the World Bank and Green Climate Fund as well as Canadian organizations such as Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre.

But for Dr. Clark, the hub’s biggest benefit to the university will come in the form of research collaborations, opportunities to impact policy, and training for students: “We’re hoping that our graduates will obtain meaningful employment at international organizations and nonprofits, and use the skills that they’re developed at University of Calgary to take leadership positions in these organizations and address some of the global challenges that we have.”

And at a time when climate change is dominating headlines and creating rampant anxiety the world over, Dr. Clark hopes the hub will “provide a beacon of light for the planet.”

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