Our first blog around the COP21 taking place here in Paris where the GMR is based showed how education can help poorer communities respond and react to the impact of climate change. This blog shows that, by improving knowledge, instilling values, fostering beliefs and shifting attitudes, education has considerable power to help individuals reconsider environmentally harmful lifestyles and behavior. Therefore, education should form part of the solutions proposed from the COP.
The completion of higher levels of education does not automatically translate into more responsible behaviour towards the environment. But as the influential Stern Review on climate change noted: ‘Educating those currently at school about climate change will help to shape and sustain future policy-making, and a broad public and international debate will support today’s policy-makers in taking strong action now’.
In 47 countries covered by the 2005–2008 World Values Survey, the higher a person’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore in the 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.
Data from the International Social Survey Programme on 29 mostly high income countries similarly showed that the share of those disagreeing that people worry too much about the environment rose from 25% of those with less than secondary education to 46% of people with tertiary education.
Education encourages individuals to protect the environment.
People with more education tend not only to be more concerned about the environment, but also to engage in actions that promote and support political decisions that protect the environment. Such pressure is a vital way of pushing governments towards the type of binding agreement that is needed to reduce greenhouse gases and control emission levels.
In almost all countries participating in the 2010 International Social Survey Programme, respondents with more education were more likely to have signed a petition, given money or taken part in a protest or demonstration, in relation to the environment, over the past five years. In Germany, while 12% of respondents with less than secondary education had taken such political action, the share rose to 26% of those with secondary education and 46% of those with tertiary education.
An analysis of the Global Warming Citizen Survey in the United States also showed that the higher a respondent’s education level, the greater his/her activism in terms of policy support, environmental political participation and environment-friendly behaviour.
Education encourages people to use energy and water more efficiently and recycle household waste.
By increasing awareness and concern, education can encourage people to reduce their impact on the environment through more efficient use of energy and water supplies, especially in areas of resource scarcity. In semi-arid areas of China, for example, educated farmers were more likely to use rainwater harvesting and supplementary irrigation technology to alleviate water shortages.
Educated households are also more likely to use different methods of water purification through filtering or boiling. In urban India, the probability of purification increased by 9% when the most educated adult had completed primary education and by 22% when the most educated adult had completed secondary education, even once household wealth is accounted for.
Such behaviour becomes increasingly important as people in high income countries are called upon to modify their consumption and take other measures that limit environmental harm. In the Netherlands, the more educated tend to use less energy in the home, even taking account of household income. A study in 10 OECD countries found that more educated households tended to save water; similar findings were reported in Spain.
Education, however, is not a silver bullet. It must be supported with global political leadership.
As it becomes increasingly clear how much human action has impacted environmental degradation and climate change, especially through the release of greenhouse gases, attention must turn to education and the need to tap its potential. We are all learners when it comes to the environment and better ways to protect it and the planet we inhabit. In this sense, the notion of lifelong learning is especially apt. This trend will be further supported by the new Sustainable Development Agenda, in which education for global citizenship and sustainable futures is explicitly prioritised in one of the new education targets.
And yet we all know that it’s difficult to change attitudes and practices overnight. Completing education courses, both formal and non-formal, takes time to complete. Therefore, we must also see it as our responsibility to communicate what we think about these global issues to leaders gathered at the COP21. The multiple threats of environmental degradation and climate change have assumed an unprecedented urgency to which we are all obligated to respond.
It’s time to join hands for change.
Multiple goals in the new sustainable development agenda link back to energy, the environment, consumption, lifestyles and ecosystems. We here at the GMR know that education joins dots between all these targeted priorities. Our next Report – the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) will be looking into the synergies unleashed by and through education and making the case for better integrated development planning. Let’s hope the leaders gathered in Paris today do the same.