COP26 must take climate change education seriously

With seemingly ever-increasing regularity we hear warnings of ‘climate emergency’, ‘tipping points’, and ‘time running out’. After the recent G7 summit was widely judged to be yet another case of fine words but limited action — the verdict of the BBC’s environment analyst was that “for the umpteenth time the rich club has failed to deliver on its promise to channel $100bn a year to poor nations coping with a heating climate” — pressure continues to mount on world leaders ahead of December’s COP26 intergovernmental climate conference in Scotland. Climate change is surely the gravest foreseeable threat we face in the coming decades. Life-Based Learning (LBL) emphasises the importance of children learning much more than at present about climate change, and about the environment and nature more generally, as part of a fully rounded, life-based curriculum.

To be honest, it feels like a typical newsweek, the daily headlines filled with stories about the devastating impact of climate change — not even counting the ongoing record-breaking heatwave in Canada and the US Pacific Northwest, which has already killed dozens of people and probably more — or with summaries of scientific reports warning of future catastrophe.

We watch as a huge diplomatic row ensues after a UNESCO report called for the Great Barrier Reef to be added to a list of endangered World Heritage Sites, claiming that Australia had not done enough to protect it from damage caused by climate change. Coral bleaching — or loss of algae — has affected large parts of the reef. Australia is high up the list of developed countries resistant to taking meaningful climate action, such as by signing up to a net zero emissions target by 2050.

We are told that climate change is reducing the supply of water from melting snow to many of the largest rivers in Asia, threatening the water security of millions of people. Asia is home to the world’s ‘third pole’ – including the 14 highest peaks on Earth — the largest volume of fresh water outside of the polar ice sheets. Meltwater from snowpacks feeds into large rivers, which provide water for drinking, washing, agriculture and energy to 1.5 billion people. The ‘third pole’ is highly sensitive to climate change; snow meltwater supply has already dropped significantly, a trend that is almost certain to get worse as the planet heats up.

We are warned that up to 410 million people will be living in areas less than two metres above sea level, and at risk from sea level rises, unless global emissions are reduced. Climate change has caused sea levels to rise and more frequent and severe storms to occur, both of which increase flood risks in coastal areas.

We read that nearly 2 million people living in the Glasgow City Region — Glasgow is of course the venue for the COP26 conference — face severe disruption from increased heatwaves, flash floods and droughts caused by climate change unless billions of pounds are invested in protecting homes, businesses and transport links. According to the Guardian, the Met Office estimates that without radical action to halt global carbon emissions, Glasgow’s maximum summer temperatures will rise by at least 1.1C by 2030 and by 2.6C by 2080.

We have written in the past about the mental health impact of climate change on young people, particularly the evidence of ‘climate anxiety’. This short but sobering video on the BBC website features a number of highly articulate young people describing their concerns and fears.

Teach the Future describes itself as “a youth-led campaign to urgently repurpose the entire education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis”. Its headline message reads:

Sustainability and climate change need to be taught across the curriculum, equipping students with the skills and knowledge needed for the green jobs of the future.

from the Teach the Future website

Its three specific goals are sensible and eminently achievable:

  • teaching students about climate change
  • including green skills in many vocational courses
  • making educational buildings climate-friendly

It is remarkable how strongly Teach the Future’s thinking resonates with the Life-Based Learning (LBL) vision for primary education and its critique of traditional subject-based learning:

Students need to be taught about the climate emergency and ecological crisis: how they are caused, what we can do to mitigate them and what our future lives and jobs are going to look like due to them. Sustainability and these crises need to become key content in all subject areas. Educators need to be trained in how to teach about these difficult topics in a way that empowers students, and they need funding and resources to do this.

from the Teach the Future website

In our blog about the opportunity that COP26 presents to reset the environmental button we argued:

“A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising day once or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.”

from Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

Life-Based Learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants, animal life and the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Plant Life, Animal Life and Physical World are three of LBL’s nine curriculum themes that will bring a life focus to the curriculum for children aged 5 to 11 and ensure that they are learning the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

Read More About Environmental and Climate Change Education

Image at the head of this article by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.

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