Who’s making the grade on climate change education ambition?

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The release of the 6th IPCC report on the physical science of climate change this month raised the alarm around the urgency to act on the climate crisis. Clearly, global leaders did not heed the previous five alarms nor did they listen to recent calls to increase the ambition of their efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. They have also neglected their duties to build a climate resilient citizenry that is equipped with knowledge about and skills to act on the climate emergency, particularly in terms of climate change education (CCE).

In 2019, I along with esteemed colleagues pointed out in a report ahead of COP25 that few countries were paying attention to the education and empowerment of children and youth— especially girls and young women—as a solution to the climate crisis. Specifically, we found that 42 countries out of 160 whose NDC we analyzed mentioned the education of children and youth in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—national climate action plans detailing pathways for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. None formally recognized the role of girls’ education in climate strategies, despite girls being some of the most affected by the climate crisis.

This finding was disappointing, as all countries that ratified the Paris Agreement also committed to engage in climate empowerment to enable all members of society to address the climate crisis. This includes the education (both formal and nonformal) and training of children and youth, who will inherit the climate crisis that they had no part in creating.

Six years since the passage of the Paris Agreement, and amid a global pandemic, global leaders will gather for COP26 in Glasgow in November to negotiate climate action. Aside from the main goals of mitigation and adaptation, countries are also called upon to include climate education as part of their NDCs. Have countries, since 2019, increased their ambition when it comes to the role of education in their updated, revised, or new NDCs? It comes as no surprise that the answer is unfortunately not.

In a new study that I conducted with Education International as part of its #Teach4thePlanet campaign, I found that every country (73, as of July 31, 2021 [1]) that had submitted its updated, revised, or new NDC had failed when it comes to making the grade on the Education International (EI) Climate Change Education (CCE) Ambition Report Card [2]. Below is a summary of the benchmarks for the EI CCE Ambition Report Card.

The Education International Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card
The EI CCE Ambition Report Card, developed to help support the monitoring of EI’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All, grades countries’ policies along 6 criteria:

Policy Ambition – Does the country call for compulsory CCE that is assessed with clear timebound benchmarks to monitor progress?
Pervasiveness – Does the country call for CCE across the education system, including all levels of education and across all subject areas?
Inclusiveness – Does the country’s approach to CCE benefit all target populations, including the most vulnerable? Does the country engage and consult with educators and students during the CCE policy making process?
Quality of Climate Change Education – Does the country call for CCE that is gender-empowering, intersectional, and transdisciplinary? Does it call for CCE that is based in science, fosters civic engagement and climate action, and builds pathways to future careers in the green economy?
Climate Justice – Does the country center its approach to CCE in the pursuit of climate justice, by teaching how different groups, like women and girls as well as indigenous peoples, are differentially impacted by climate change?
Systems Strengthening – Does the country call for the adequate financing of public education needed to support the delivery of quality CCE? Does the country ensure that teachers receive adequate training and continuing professional development to deliver quality CCE?
It is imperative to recognize that not all countries have the capacity at this time to execute ambitious CCE plans. The indicators outlined above point to a high standard that should be the aspiration of every country, with the caveat that developing nations must be ensured international support based on the principle of ‘ common but differentiated responsibilities’. Wealthy nations must take the lead in this global undertaking.

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