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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

New research: World fails in climate education despite urgent need to act

published 28 September 2021 updated 28 September 2021

New research from Education International shows that despite the urgency of the climate crisis, countries around the world are not prioritising climate education, a fundamental component for a sustainable future. The research examined the level of ambition on climate education and the extent to which countries prioritise education as a tool for climate action. Results are dismal, with countries failing across the board.

"Amid the global climate catastrophe, climate education is not optional. It is absolutely vital. Students need the knowledge and skills to navigate this crisis and effect positive change. Their lives depend on it. Governments need to step up urgently and ensure quality climate change education for all. Teachers are ready to do their part," stated David Edwards, Education International General Secretary,

Measuring ambition on climate change education

Conducted by Christina Kwauk, the Education International Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card analysed 73 updated, revised or new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as of July 30, 2021. NDCs are countries’ national climate action plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.

The research scored NDCs along 6 criteria based on the Education International Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All:

  1. Policy Ambition – Does the country call for compulsory climate change education that is assessed with clear timebound benchmarks to monitor progress?
  2. Pervasiveness – Does the country call for climate change education across the education system, including all levels of education and across all subject areas?
  3. Inclusiveness – Does the country’s approach to climate change education benefit all target populations, including the most vulnerable? Does the country consult with educators and students when developing policy on climate change education?
  4. Quality of climate change education – Does the country call for climate change education that is gender-empowering, intersectional, and transdisciplinary? Does it call for climate change education that is based in science, fosters civic engagement and climate action, and builds pathways to future careers in the green economy?
  5. Climate justice – Does the country centre its approach to climate change education in the pursuit of climate justice, by teaching how different groups, like women and girls as well as indigenous peoples, are differentially impacted by climate change?
  6. Systems strengthening – Does the country call for the adequate financing of public education needed to support the delivery of quality climate change education? Does the country ensure that teachers receive adequate training and continuous professional development to deliver quality climate change education?

The indicators outlined above point to a high standard that should be the aspiration of every country, especially in the context of impending climate breakdown.

All countries failed

All analysed NDCs failed to score the minimum of 60% to pass. Only three countries scored 50% or more:

  • Cambodia (58%)
  • Dominican Republic (51%)
  • Colombia (50%)

When adjusting the scores upwards (by adding 42 percentage points to all scores), 10 countries rise to the top:

  • 90-100%: Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Argentina
  • 80-89%: Cabo Verde, Costa Rica
  • 70-79%: Marshall Islands
  • 60-69%: St. Lucia, Vanuatu, Mexico

Countries (fail to) recognise the role of quality education in the fight against climate change

While 53 of the 73 updated NDCs reference education, only 17 NDCs specifically reference the education of children and youth.

When it comes to the quality of climate change education, a few countries are leading the charge, but overall, the picture is still bleak. For instance, none of the countries calling for climate change education in their NDCs are calling for climate change education that is based in science.

Governments are not listening to young climate activists

While 46 NDCs reference children and youth, only 6 NDCs position them as agents of change and only 4 NDCs see them as a priority group. 26 NDCs reference intergenerational equity and/or future generations.

Alarmingly, countries where Fridays for Future strikes were most active were not any more likely to mention climate change education, intergenerational equity, or the wellbeing of future generations in their NDCs than countries with fewer youth climate strikes.

Teachers and education systems overlooked

Just 7 NDCs mention teachers and none mention engaging teachers or teacher unions as a climate stakeholder group. Only one NDC (Marshall Islands) recognises that teachers have a role in greening the education system.

Countries are also not paying attention to the need to strengthen education systems to face the climate crisis:

  • Only one NDC (Cambodia) specifies that more funding needs to be directed to the education system.
  • Only 5 NDCs articulated the need to make education infrastructure “greener” or more resilient to the effects of climate change.
  • While 6 NDCs point to the need to invest in teacher training, only one NDC calls for continued professional development opportunities that meet teachers’ needs as they prepare learners to face one of the greatest existential threats of our time.

Gendered impact of climate change not a priority

While 58 NDCs mention women and gender, only 9 NDCs mention girls.

Of the countries where climate change is expected to impact the education of girls the most, those that have submitted an NDC do not mentions girls.

While 2 NDCs (Cambodia and the United Kingdom) mention girls in the context of their education, none formally recognises the contributions that an investment in girls’ education could make towards their climate strategy.

Top 20 emitters and 20 richest countries do not mention climate change education

  • Only 3 of the top carbon emitting countries make reference to the wellbeing of future generations.
  • Countries scoring above 90% (when scores are adjusted upwards) are all countries with greater climate vulnerability.
  • Countries with the lowest carbon emissions are more likely to mention CCE in their NDCs.

No more delays. The world needs quality climate education for all now!

"Amid the global climate catastrophe, climate education is not optional. It is absolutely vital."

David Edwards, Education International General Secretary

The report highlights a set of key recommendations for policy makers:

  • Fund, resource, and strengthen education systems as a climate-relevant sector.
  • Prioritise as a climate strategy quality climate change education that is based on science, oriented to climate action, and takes an intersectional approach to climate justice.
  • Involve teachers and educators as key stakeholders in climate policy and decision making.

Teachers and education support personnel around the world are rallying around Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign to demand quality climate education for all.

Read the full report below and support our Manifesto on Quality Climate Education for All.