It was a historic moment when in 2015 UN member states adopted a progressive agenda for a better world, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Central to the SDGs was the important (albeit overdue) recognition that social and economic development cannot be pursued without taking into account their environmental impact. That is to say, considerations for people and planet must go hand in hand.
Yet, four years later, what have governments done to stop the looming catastrophe for both people and planet as a result of human-caused climate change? Very little. Already, climate-induced natural disasters are causing unprecedented destruction. And still we continue to let the world’s temperature rise. Meanwhile, a powerful tool for combatting the climate crisis – climate change education – has been almost entirely forgotten about by governments.
In adopting the SDGs, all UN member states committed to implement climate change education for all, building on and reiterating past promises. Governments pledged to “improve education…on climate change mitigation, adaption, impact reduction and early warning” (target 13.3), “ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature” (target 12.8) and “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including…education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles [of which climate change education is a key component]” (target 4.7).
This SDG framework recognises that spreading awareness, information and facts about the climate crisis is vital if we are going to tackle it. There is consensus that all students must gain the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to take action on climate change. This means that climate change must be taught across all subjects, and at all levels. And for this to happen, climate change education must be mainstreamed in every nation’s education policies, curricula, teacher training and assessments. All governments have agreed to this. But what is the reality? What progress has been made?
According to EI’s recent report monitoring progress made on achieving SDG 4, Off Track, climate change education is far from universal. On the contrary, the reality is that our education systems are unfit to provide quality education on the most important issue facing humanity today. Teachers from across the world tell us that they do not feel adequately supported to teach climate change education. Few receive initial teacher training or professional development that includes climate change. Some are even denied the permission to teach climate science as a result of climate change denial among decision- and policymakers in their jurisdiction.
Students are out on the streets demanding climate change education. Education systems need to catch up. Even achieving full implementation of climate change education by 2030 will be too late for our planet. Immediate action must be taken now. What should be done? Here are our three recommendations:
EI’s 3 Ps:
Climate change education does not grow on trees. If governments are serious about implementing climate change education in all educational institutions, they must ensure that the necessary funds are earmarked for climate change education curricula development, teaching materials, human resources and teacher training. In Germany, research contracted by an EI member union and its allies showed that implementing education for sustainable development in all schools in the country would cost an estimated €13.7 billion, requiring a 3.6% increase in national education spending. To make universal climate change education a reality, governments must make a plan for how it will be implemented, budget its roll out and back their promises with the money required.
If climate change education is to be universalised, it must be prioritised by education systems. To date, governments have focused their attention on other aspects of SDG 4 - they have prioritised improving student learning outcomes in numeracy and literacy at the expense of broader educational outcomes. Moreover, privatisation trends, corporate management of schools and an increasingly narrow focus on test results exacerbates this over-emphasis on so-called ‘core subjects’. Yet, what could be more important than education to save our planet and humanity? Systems that deprioritise climate change education must be redesigned, and teachers must be given the professional autonomy to teach about the climate.
- Practice what you preach
Governments should ensure that education institutions ‘walk the talk’ and become sites of climate action. Policies should be put in place to encourage education institutions to not only teach about theclimate crisis, its root causes and solutions, but to model sustainable practices themselves. Education institutions should be environmentally friendly - reducing waste, using renewable energies, recycling etc. It is also important that climate change education pedagogy reflects the transformative aims of climate change education. Teaching methods for climate change education should be geared towards action and cooperation, providing students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become agents of change for a better society.