Education International
Education International

Climate change: What role for the education trade union movement?

published 20 March 2008 updated 20 March 2008

EI affiliates have a special responsibility in society to take the issue of climate change seriously in their work.

Educators have arguably a central role in relating to the serious impact of climate change on our world because:

  • They teach the future generations who will experience the effects of climate change and therefore are able to pass on to them the need to understand how societies will need to change, and how future politicians will have to make decisions to reduce these effects.
  • They research into the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on the world environment, and into other subjects which will be affected by climate change. Economic and sociological research will need to look into the changes that will be brought about and the sciences will need to research into many aspects equally affected.
  • They also occupy large structures in urban as well as rural settings that utilise large amounts of energy and produce greenhouse gases. This is particularly pronounced in higher education where large sites are occupied by university campuses, and where the movement of staff and students around the world is a vital part of maintaining academic interaction and academic quality.

But EI affiliates will also be concerned with the growing humanitarian effects associated with climate change. Drought, floods, changing agricultural patterns, food shortages etc may all have some association with climate change. So apart from using their professional roles as teachers and researchers to highlight the problem and increase awareness, what can EI affiliates do? Without doubt there is an important job to be done in ensuring that education curricula around the world contain references to climate change, and researchers themselves may need protection from their trade union where they are investigating issues related to climate change that their government or institution finds uncomfortable. But in addition to this, there is a role for trade unions in education to negotiate with their employers to help them reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Branches should consider electing environmental representatives who would be responsible for such negotiations whether the initiative comes from the employer or their own trade union membership. In large institutions be they schools or universities, there will be many opportunities to change working practices in order to reduce emissions, but these must be agreed with the staff. The unions can therefore play a vital role in initiating changes in the education work place that reduce emissions. EI has taken on board the need for its affiliates to become involved in the whole issue of climate change through the adoption at its Berlin World Congress in July 2007 of a resolution on Quality Education: Present and Future. At the 6th EI International Conference on Higher Education and Research in Malaga, it was agreed that EI should begin to develop policy in this area and advise its affiliates of how they might develop their own union policy on climate change. The Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC) meeting in Dubrovnik 2008 agreed that EI should make contact with other organisations and NGOs working on policy in this area, in particular to engage with the "Global Alliance to promote Higher Education for Sustainable Development", which is being organised through UNESCO. A number of trade union centres in other countries are developing an approach on climate change, eg the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the UK. There are also a number of international initiatives in the higher education sector aimed at sustainability. These are the University Charter for Sustainable Development, Talloires Declaration, Kyoto Declaration on Sustainable Development. by Brian Everett and Rob Copeland, University and College Union (UCU), United Kingdom