Using COP26 to press the environmental education reset button

It might seem fanciful to imagine anything dislodging Covid-19 from the headlines at the moment, but in the coming months we are likely to be seeing, hearing and reading a great deal about the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference. As the UK is the president of COP26, the conference is both a massive responsibility and a massive opportunity for the country. Just as with the 2012 London Olympics we need to focus on legacy, using the event as a springboard for bringing about long-term change.

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is due to take place in Glasgow on 1–12 November. Postponed from 2020, this major conference, which will be attended by the world’s key political leaders, is intended to build on the Paris climate change agreement of 2015 which set the goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The threat is existential and the need for action is urgent. Just one of the grave consequences of climate change is biodiversity loss. The official COP26 website says:

Humanity faces the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss which, together, are undermining nature’s capacity to sustain healthy life, nutritious diets and national economies. The two are inextricably linked and need to be tackled together urgently, with equal ambition.

from the official COP26 website

The Natural History Museum featured a report from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew on its website in September 2020 saying that 40% of plants are threatened with extinction.

We are sure to hear plenty of soaring rhetoric and earnest promises from world leaders as COP26 draws nearer. However, rhetoric and promises alone will not be enough. Much of the talk ahead of the 2012 Olympics was about ‘legacy’, using the once-in-a-generation event to reset the nation’s awareness of the importance of — and its relationship with — sport and physical activity. COP26 presents a similar opportunity to press the reset button on our understanding of the importance of — and relationship with — nature and plant life.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning has regularly highlighted the importance of nature in features such as these:

Large-scale public events like COP26 generate attention, headlines and discussion. They can raise public awareness and galvanise people into action. However, too often the momentum is quickly lost, as arguably was the case with the Olympics, the message, the hope, the ambition all but forgotten once the event itself is over.

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.

Life-based learning promotes an appreciation of the importance of plants and of nature. Plant Life is one of life-based learning’s nine curriculum themes. Along with Animal Life and Physical World, it ensures that children learn the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to enable them to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

More About Plant Life and Nature

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