Internationalisation and climate change

Climate change is getting more and more attention in society. In order to solve the challenges involved, more international cooperation is needed. Sustainability and internationalisation are therefore also important themes in education. However, climate change and internationalisation are at odds with each other. Read more about this dilemma in this interview with Nuffic researchers.

Due to the rapid growth in the number of international students, total greenhouse gas emissions as a result of student mobility have increased significantly in recent years. Percentage-wise, greenhouse gas emissions from student mobility have risen even faster than total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Among other things, this is demonstrated by research conducted by Robin Shields.

Internationalisation activities thus represent a growing component of the climate challenge, although still a small share in absolute terms. Assuming the most favourable scenario, emissions from student mobility are as high per year worldwide as those from a country like Latvia. The largest share of these emissions is caused by students travelling between high-income countries.

Sustainability initiatives

Higher education

Research universities and universities of applied sciences are aware of their part in the climate change issue. As a result, they have launched various initiatives to make their mobility policies more sustainable.

Take a look at these sustainability initiatives:

Vocational education and training

There are various initiatives for sustainable internationalisation in vocational education and training. Here are some examples:

If you are aware of other interesting initiatives concerning sustainable internationalisation in vocational education and training institutions, please let us know through our contact form.

Secondary education

Secondary education institutions have also devised various initiatives to contribute to making their exchanges more sustainable.

Take a look at these sustainability initiatives, for example:

  • Global Citizen Network: As part of the Global Citizen Network, 2 Dutch schools organised a successful ‘national exchange’.
  • Leren voor morgen: The Leren voor Morgen (Learning for Tomorrow) cooperative stimulates sustainability initiatives in secondary education in the Netherlands (in Dutch).
  • Project Earth Charter: An Erasmus+ project themed ‘Earth Charter’, as part of which 4 schools from 4 different European countries work together to make the transition to a more sustainable and fairer world.

Primary education

If you are aware of interesting initiatives concerning sustainable internationalisation in primary education institutions, please let us know through our contact form.

International initiatives

The number of initiatives to make international mobility and internationalisation in education more sustainable is growing not only in the Netherlands, but also worldwide.

Take a look at these sustainability initiatives:

  • Climate Action Network for International Educators (CANIE): An initiative of professionals in the field of internationalisation in higher education who want to reduce the climate impact of their work. Their target is a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030.
    On 12 November 2020, CANIE organised, in cooperation with Nuffic, the online International Education Climate Action Summit on making internationalisation in higher education more sustainable. The recording of the online event can be seen via CANIE's YouTube channel.
  • EAIE: Since 2017, the EAIE conference has increased its entrance fees annually to finance the planting of trees. The aim of the EAIE Education Forest is to compensate for the environmental burden resulting from the conference.
  • CISaustralia: The Australian organisation CISaustralia is committed to allowing Australian students to gain experience abroad. In order to help reduce the ecological footprint of these students and increase awareness, it has drawn up a Green Book.
  • Movetia: The Swiss agency for internationalisation in education has published a document, Greener Mobility, with best practices for sustainable mobility in education.
  • Coalitie Anders Reizen: The Dutch businesses united in the Anders Reizen (Travel Differently) coalition have announced that they will adjust their flight policies to reduce their CO2 emissions. The ambition is to make the Netherlands healthier and more sustainable by halving CO2 emissions as a result of business mobility. Together with the Foundation for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection and Climate Neutral Group, they have bundled their knowledge and experiences in a ‘flying guide’ (in Dutch) to inspire other organisations to follow their example.
  • ETH Zürich: ETH Zurich has launched an air travel project with the motto ‘Stay grounded, keep connected’. The objective is to encourage its members to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by taking fewer flights.
  • European Parliament: On 15 September 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out effective measures for a ‘green’ Erasmus+, Creative Europe and the European Solidarity Corps.

Internationalisation at home

Acquiring international and intercultural competences is also possible without travelling. In recent years, institutions at all levels of education have started initiatives for pupils, students, teachers and other staff to internationalise within their own national borders. This is what we refer to as internationalisation at home.

Read more about internationalisation at home in vocational education and training (in Dutch).

Read more about internationalisation at home in higher education (in Dutch).


As part of the eTwinning community (in Dutch), schools in 40 European countries work together online. Through eTwinning, they have already started many different projects in primary, secondary and vocational education.

Each year, eTwinning focuses on a theme. This year, it’s ‘climate change’. Seminars are organised around this theme, projects are highlighted, a European prize is awarded and online campaigns are organised.

Take a look at some examples of eTwinning projects:

  • #togetherathome: Teacher Dorien started this project in order to create some nice memories for her primary school pupils during the coronavirus pandemic. To this end, she uses eTwinning to bring them into contact with peers from 8 different European countries.
  • Visit the page ‘Practical examples and teaching materials for eTwinning’ (in Dutch) to see highlights of 3 eTwinning projects in 3 short videos.

What can you do?

Do you want to work on sustainable internationalisation within your educational institution?

These 5 tips can help you make the policy of your organisation more sustainable:

  • Keep a record of emissions data for your institution. This will give us an insight into actual emissions. An example of this are The President’s Climate Leadership Commitments, as part of which American universities and colleges have agreed, among other things, to include air travel in their reporting on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Encourage green travel, particularly by limiting the number of air travel as much as possible.
  • Limit the number of employees per trip and increase the number of activities per trip.
  • Look for alternatives to mobility, such as distance learning and teacher mobility.
  • Compensate any emissions that you still generate.