The critical role of education in a global response to climate change was recognized in Article 12 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco, serves to kick-off its implementation, and is therefore dedicating November 14 to education. On that day, and feeding into the discussions, we will be launching PLANET: Education for environmental sustainability and green growth at a high-level panel event and press conference. We hope the messages in our latest report can show the practical ways that education can be a critical partner for climate change awareness and resilience.
Our new publication, PLANET, taken from the full 2016 GEM Report, will form the key note presentation during the high-level panel debate at the start of the Education Day entitled “Education – A key driver to scale-up climate action”. This event includes high-level speakers including UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, HRH Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco, Manos Antoninis from the GEM Report together with the Minister of Education from Morocco, Mr Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdallah. The event will serve to discuss the way that education can enhance the implementation of the climate agenda and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
The new Planet publication shows how education has a key role to play in addressing environmental challenges, whether their cause is believed to be economic or demographic, or global, national or individual actions. Education can be used to mitigate specific environmental issues and respond to their impact, but also to address the behaviour that causes them.
Education affects how we think, act and behave
Education helps students understand an environmental problem, its consequences and the types of action required to address it. With improved environmental and ecological literacy, students are more inclined to change behaviour affecting environmental issues. Examples include school-led awareness-raising campaigns and programmes on recycling, minimizing litter, conserving energy and improving water, sanitation and public health. Environmentally literate students are better equipped to see the links between actions and consequences. They can learn about the key vocabulary and concepts within environmental discourse, and its background when in school. This makes the design of curricular content essential, something we covered in depth in the 2016 GEM Report under target 4.7.
There really should be no questioning education’s role in climate change response. In 62% of 119 countries covered by the Gallup World Poll conducted in 2007 and 2008, education level and beliefs about the cause of climate change were often the top predictors of climate change awareness and risk perception. People with more schooling were better able to identify various environmental issues in 70 out of 119 countries. People with access to communication tools were also more aware, demonstrating the growing importance of information and communications technology in environmental education as well.
The benefit of ‘learning by doing’
Schooling, and especially first hand experience in nature and in school garden programmes, also teaches values, helping students develop a sense of place, reconnect with natural world and build agency and competencies. In India, for example, the Paryavaran Mitra programme, launched in 2010, builds on this concept by promoting the value of ‘learning by doing’. It developed a network of young ‘friends of the environment’ and currently reaches over 220,000 schools as well as government and civil society partners.
Remember: many adults were educated before climate change was an issue But climate change also calls for new approaches to learning, which education must also respond to. Many adults were educated before climate change and global warming were issues, for instance, making lifelong learning, and learning through the community essential today. Here, traditional – and specifically indigenous – knowledge should be recognised for the value in the environmental practices that are passed, usually by word of mouth, from generation to generation. Traditional, local and indigenous knowledge have proved valuable for the functioning of ecosystems, early warning systems related to disasters, climate change adaptation, and resilience. Education systems should be careful not to put these local knowledge systems at risk, by dampening down local languages, or pluralistic knowledge systems.
New skills are needed to promote sustainable development
Our new SDG framework recognises the importance of all learners acquiring knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development (Target 4.7). The types of skills and competences that are vital include being able to communicate appropriately and effectively with people from other cultures or countries; comprehending other people’s thoughts, beliefs and feelings and seeing the world from their perspective; adjusting one’s thoughts, feelings or behaviours to fit new contexts and situations; and analyzing and thinking critically in order to scrutinize and appraise information and meanings.
We hope that these messages from our latest research, along with additional findings shown in forthcoming blogs on this site this week, will make their way to those working on climate change response who are gathered in Marrakech. Article 12 of the COP21 Paris Agreement stresses that: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures… to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information…” In our monitoring capacity, and mandated to monitor education targets in other SDGs, this could be an interesting development to track over the coming years. Certainly, it will be good news if this Article can bring about some of the recommendations our Report believes are necessary for ensuring climate change education makes a difference.