Photo credit: Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Education International’s Climate Network showcases powerful union responses to climate change

published 1 June 2021 updated 23 January 2023

Collective power and support in achieving universal climate change education were at the heart of the second meeting of Education International’s Climate Network.

The Network meeting, held virtually on 25 May, provided a space for member organisations to share experiences, information, and strategies to support each other and build collective power to achieve climate justice and quality climate change education for all. Members of the Network include both union leaders and staff members who are focused on climate work.

The Network was formed to guide and support Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign. Led by educators and in partnership with EARTHDAY.ORG, this campaign aims to ensure that climate education, based on science and with a civic action focus, becomes as fundamental as teaching reading and writing.

The campaign is informed by Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All– a policy instrument that outlines the teaching profession’s vision for quality CCE and the policy framework necessary to implement it. Teach for the Planet will drive global mobilisation for quality climate education leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.

Education International has just launched a call for a consultant– services to be provided between 15 June until 15 September 2021 – to support the policy and advocacy components of the campaign.

Member organisations updated attendees on campaign activities or priority areas for action identified since the launch of the Teach for the Planet campaign.

New Zealand: Climate change policy with four key areas

In New Zealand, the New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI) passed a climate change policy in September 2016 and appointed a climate change campaigner in October 2020.

NZEI’s Conor Twyford explained that the union’s climate work has four main areas focused on reducing emissions:

  1. Decarbonising union staffing .
  2. Pilot work in three regions (Area Councils): the union is setting up climate representative structures and a climate convenor for each Area Council. Local issues vary, so action will be determined locally and led by a Māori member – Māori are Indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand.
  3. Council of Trade Unions - Just Transition group: a cross-union group shares information and strategies around Just Transition issues, e.g., submissions on the Climate Change Commission draft report or on the future of work.
  4. National movement/coalition building that involves developing relationships with the indigenous climate movement.

Latin America: Pandemic doesn’t stop educators and students from outreach and awareness-raising activities

In Panama, Juan Eduardo Blas of the Magisterio Panameño Unido(MPU) highlighted his union’s project which aims to protect animal species such as marine turtles threatened worldwide and victims of climate change. Launched by academics, this project involves schools and universities throughout the country.

In the framework of this project, educators and students clean beaches, look after mangroves and are also in close contact with communities, as they want them to be more aware of the marine and land resources in Panama.

Because of the pandemic, they had to limit the number of visits to the beaches, because no crowds were allowed on the beaches.

Schools are still closed and gradually reopening, starting with elementary schools, but it is still possible to work online and watch the beaches, Blas said.

This year, project participants have already freed newly born turtles: “We want to show the communities how important our project is, how important turtles are and how they are affected by many human activities.”

Also in Latin America, the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina(CTERA) will hold from 4-5 June an International Congress on environmental education, This Congress is aligned with Education International’s “Teach for the Planet” campaign, aiming to inspire the world's communities to action and mobilisation and to ensure that climate change education, based on scientific data and with a civic focus, is mainstreamed in teaching and learning processes.

In Mexico, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación(SNTE) is very concerned about climate change and, “the legacy we are going to leave to our children,” stressed Francisco Javier Carretero.

SNTE leads permanent and temporary campaigns around how to help the planet. “We have run a campaign around deforestation, allowing children to adopt a tree to create a virtuous circle of empathy with the environment. We also organised a campaign to save endangered marine species, inviting students to adopt sea cows.”

Carretero also said that his union is pushing for climate change education to protect the environment. He deplored especially that “our country has a lot of water, however, we have realised that our ground water is very polluted”, and some land has become arid land in Mexico lately.

Japan: A “whole institution approach” to Climate Change Education

Tamaki Terazawa, Director of International Affairs with the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) outlined JTU’s experiences and takeaways from the UNESCO World Conference on education for sustainable development(ESD) held from 7-19 May.

During the UNESCO conference, she stressed, JTU delivered Education International’s key messages as global representative of educators, i.e., children’s right to receive quality climate education and governments’ responsibilities to implement quality climate education.

JTU uses a “whole institution approach”, whereby the school offers comprehensive learning, teachers as well as students develop learning on education for sustainable development (ESD) at all the grades, including peer-peer learning, and teachers have core group training and also develop materials.

Terazawa emphasised that educators must be considered as key stakeholders in climate change education, which is the case in the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development adopted at the end of the UNESCO conference. This declaration recognises “the crucial role of teachers to promote ESD and invest in the capacity development of teachers and other education personnel at all levels and to ensure a whole-of-sector approach to the necessary transformation of education”.

Zimbabwe: Supporting teacher capacity building in disaster risk management

The Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (ZIMTA) Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Sifiso Ndlovu, said that the union is active in promoting climate change education. For example, ZIMTA was successful in guaranteeing the inclusion of climate change education in the country’s Education Strategic Plan 2021-2025. It is also negotiating with the Education Minister to change the curriculum to include climate change education. Furthermore, it is pushing for climate change education to be a cross-curricula topic in primary and secondary education and the union is working closely with the Ministry of Environment on climate change education issues.

The need for the development of ZIMTA’s conceptual framework for a CCE policy was clearly highlighted by the devastating impact of the Idai cyclone that struck the country in March 2019, Ndlovu underlined.

This policy will be articulated around the “five fingers – tools - on the need for quality climate change education,” he noted. These tools are:

  1. Knowledge Broker Tool: The union provides education, research, and leadership for a sustainable society.
  2. Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) Utility Tool: Elements of SDGs 4, 13, and 16 directly showcase the importance of climate change education.
  3. Diagnostic Tool: ZIMTA and other unions must confront governments with the uneven negative impact of climate change, underdeveloped areas/countries often being hit the hardest.
  4. Responsive Tool: The union will help rebuild educational institutions that will be safe, secure, and resilient in the face of climate change.
  5. Adaptive Tool: climate change education must be mainstreamed in the curricula and extend beyond science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

ZIMTA also aims to increase teacher capacity building in disaster risk management, Ndlovu concluded.

US: AFT is taking action to support a just transition

For North America and the Caribbean, David Hughes of the American Federation of Teachers reported that his union has endorsed the Green New Deal, which he describes as “the first well laid out plan for a just transition and climate justice in the USA”.

AFT, he explained, followed up on that plan by rethinking three roles they play as educators, i.e. teaching, consuming fossil fuel and investing in fossil fuel.

They have therefore been sharing lessons from teacher to teacher to take action for climate education.

However, Hughes pointed out, AFT went further than that and built a partnership with the Global Union Federation grouping unions in the in the Building, Building Materials, Wood, Forestry and Allied sectors (BWI). “We want to turn schools into low carbon places, solar-generation sites for the resilience of local communities, by changing out all the energy systems, i.e. the electrical, heating, cooling, ventilation systems.”

On the investor role of educators, he noted that, as teachers as trustees of pension funds, they can decide to invest this money in eco-friendly fuel and send a political message that educators want to distance themselves from fossil fuel.