The role of our Educational System in helping to limit Climate Change – Case Study the UK

Global warming and climate change are terms used interchangeably but refer to different things

Global warming reflects the human impact whereas climate change refers to both human and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. 1

The 2015 Paris Agreement (COP 21) was a direct response to the recognition that action was required to balance emissions with the removal of greenhouses gases.  This legally binding international treaty was adopted by 196 Parties, with its goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C.

The Paris Agreement also launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the focus of transforming people’s lives by covering for example: poverty, hunger, equality, energy, clean water and sanitation, biodiversity, climate change, economic growth, sustainable cities, and responsible consumption; as well as strategies such as education and justice.

In the next round of U.N. climate talks (COP 26) due to take place in Glasgow later this year, countries will be expected to submit new, more ambitious 2030 targets. The aims of COP 26 will be to assess the progress made under the Paris Agreement and to encourage countries to enhance their original Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) into greater alignment with current climate science. While COP 26 was postponed due to COVID-19, the delay gives countries time to develop more ambitious targets and accelerate low-carbon actions to ensure a green and resilient recovery from COVID-19.2

The Role of an Educational system in improving ‘climate literacy’ in our Children

UN secretary-general, António Guterres has been quoted as saying, “We are in a race for our lives, and we are losing. The window of opportunity is closing. We no longer have the luxury of time, and climate delay is almost as dangerous as climate denial.” – the role of education is key.

Education is an essential element of the global response to climate change, it helps young people understand and address the impact of global warming, encourages changes in their attitudes and behaviour and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends.

The Department for Education says primary school children are taught about how environments can change as a result of human actions, while in GCSE science, they consider the evidence for human-caused climate change and how carbon dioxide and methane can be reduced, as well as renewable energy sources. In GCSE geography, they look at the causes, consequences and responses to extreme weather conditions and natural weather hazards. Since 2017, pupils have been able to take an environmental science A-level.

Solutions to climate disaster also offer a range of intriguing possibilities for study, from the development of solar stoves for developing countries in Africa and South America to the changes needed in our diets, farming and food production. Climate change could fit into subject areas across the curriculum, not just physics, chemistry, biology and geography but economics, history, social studies, media, arts and food technology.3

Through its Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development programme, UNESCO aims to make climate change education a more central and visible part of the international response to climate change. The programme aims to increase “climate literacy” among young people through education within the framework of the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development.4

Every UK school now has an opportunity for its teaching and wider activities to cover a range of the goals, and, working in partnership with community groups, has the capability to bring teachers, students, leaders and external agencies together.

School-age young people are already consumers and citizens who have beliefs and values. On a daily basis they make ethical and other judgements and therefore there’s a responsibility on those working with young people to ensure they are helped to contribute to a more just and sustainable future.

Whilst there is government support for this approach in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through statutory curricula, this is not the case in England. As a consequence, the inclusion of GCE, sustainability and the goals is at the discretion of individual schools even though they should be critical components of a 21st century curriculum.

Tackling the SDGs, and the practice of sustainability, not only requires an understanding of the science but also the emotions, values and humanity behind the whole system that is operating i.e. we cannot address poverty (Goal 1 – No Poverty) without providing better access to non-polluting energy sources (Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy); or provide justice (Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) without meaningful work (Goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth). And, of course, a Quality Education (Goal 4) should support the delivery of all the SDGs.5

The SDGs can provide an overall framework for Urban Science and the curriculum to steer science education towards a more holistic and interconnected view on sustainable cities. To go beyond the narrow confines and offer pupils ways to explore how sustainability can impact their lives i.e. a standard biodiversity monitoring activity can become an opportunity for pupils to use the results to develop seed papers to increase local biodiversity, or explore ways to improve access to green spaces in their community.

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