A green education for children

A green education

‘Now or never’ is the blunt message of UN scientists, referring to the need to take decisive action on greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the worst impacts of climate change in the future. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that global CO2 emissions need to peak within three years and that there must be “rapid, deep and immediate” emissions cuts, achieving net-zero by 2050. If we are to come even close to meeting emissions targets – the intermediate ones, not just 2050 – then it will require all of us to modify some of our lifestyle behaviours, led and supported by government. A green education must be part of the solution to the net-zero problem because children and young people are key to future success.

Last week’s IPCC report is the third and final section of its latest review of climate science, which brings together the work of thousands of scientists from around the world. It says that keeping temperatures down will require massive changes to energy production, industry, transport, our consumption patterns and the way we treat nature.

Progress on meeting green targets

The report reflects widespread concern that governments – including the UK government – are simply not moving fast enough. A peer-reviewed study, published this week in the journal Nature, suggests that pledges made at COP26, if implemented in full – a significant caveat – may well keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C, but that there is only a 10% chance of hitting targets for 2030 that would help keep the rise below 1.5C. According to the IPCC, a reduction of 45% in CO2 emissions (compared to 2010 levels) is needed by 2030, but emissions are currently on track to rise by around 16% by 2030.

In October 2021 the UK government set out its net-zero strategy, which included several eye-catching proposals and promises, particularly on electric cars, tree planting and alternatives to gas-powered central heating. However, there was nothing about encouraging a move away from a meat-based diet and it said frankly un-green things about aviation. That’s probably because these touch on lifestyle issues that directly impinge on people and that they feel strongly about – ‘the right to eat meat as often as I want to’, ‘the right to go on holiday abroad if I want to’.

The reality is that there are political obstacles and hazards every step of the way to 2050 and beyond. Persuading the population to adopt a greener lifestyle is going to be one of the central political challenges of the coming years. But it will not be easy: “The long road to net zero is littered with difficult choices and incompatible objectives … The twin demands of political expediency and decisive climate action will come into conflict again and again.”

The government’s net zero strategy of autumn 2021 has several good ideas to develop renewables, hydrogen, carbon capture, low-carbon heating, transport and industrial manufacturing. But there’s basically nothing on behaviour changes, eg around diets and aviation. And full implementation of policies by 2024 (as recommended by the Climate Change Committee) seems questionable.

Ajay Gambhir, a senior research fellow at the Imperial College London Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, quoted in the Guardian

Children and young people need a green education

Our recent short series of linked blogs (see the links below) explored this key challenge that lies ahead as governments and other decision-makers seek ways to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change – how to influence lifestyle choices so that people live more sustainably. It concluded by arguing that there are no simple solutions but that a green education must be central to any long-term strategy. Children and young people, we said, are key to a greener future.

We have also criticised the recent schools white paper, which says nothing about a green education, though the government has promised publication of the final version of its sustainability and climate change strategy by the end of this month.

The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. LBL is predicated on the notion that children need to be learning about the climate emergency and other such challenges. Nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, the physical world — in short, humankind’s relationship with and appreciation of the world around us — would be a central focus of a truly life-based approach to learning.

That’s why we need to ensure that a green education forms an integral part of the curriculum. LBL is about agency and empowerment, giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, and helping inspire them to take on the immense challenges the planet faces.

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Image at the head of this article by Pezibear from Pixabay.

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