African education unionists gear up for climate justice

published 2 November 2021 updated 15 November 2021

The significant role of education and educators in climate change was highlighted by education unions in the African region recently.

During the webinar, “Educators and their unions united for climate justice”, on 28 October, speakers emphasised how education is key in the fight against the climate crisis. Attendees at the webinar, organised by Education International’s Africa Region (EIRAF) office, heard how education plays a vital role in shaping human behaviour – a crucial role given the contribution of people to the climate crisis.

Educators are agent of change

“Educators are agent of change to protect eco-systems and deal with challenges of climate change” stated Mugwena Maluleke, Education International’s Vice-President for Africa.

He added that Education International’s work regarding climate change will be presented at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), being held in Glasgow from 31 October–12 November 2021.

He expressed regret that pledges made by countries, committing themselves to ambitious targets, have not been met, and he denounced “greenwashing”.

In South Africa, he said, “we are feeling the impact of not meeting the commitments. Schools are going to lead in the restoration of our land and protect our planet. We have to deal with the production of carbon dioxide; if not, it will go on impacting our lives.”

Climate change education to be inserted in curricula

Christian Addai-Pokku, Chairperson of the EIRAF Committee, insisted that “climate change has killed and displaced many people around the world. It is a testimony of the emergency of the crisis”.

Underlining that the climate crisis also deprived people of education, he was adamant that “education is central, can reverse trends, and mitigate the effects of climate change. As educators, we have a responsibility to reverse these trends. We need to advocate for climate change education to be inserted in curricula at all education levels, because it should be reflected in teaching and learning materials.”

Unions must keep members informed about regulations on climate at local and global levels, to create a sustainable future for everyone, he also noted.

Let’s unite for climate justice!

Education International’s President, Susan Hopgood, stressed that “humanity has no time to lose. If only we could have read the warning signs. No crisis is too big to be prepared for.”

She recalled that, in 2019, Education International recognised the climate emergency at its 8th World Congress held in Bangkok, Thailand, and it has taken its mandate seriously.

She added that, in 2021, Education International launched its Teach for the Planet campaign and its Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All.

“The Manifesto calls for climate change education to be embedded in all curricula, but this is far from being a reality,” she regretted.

Hopgood also explained that Education International’s recent research, the Education International Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card, finds that countries fail to recognise the role of education in tackling the climate crisis.

Recognising that many countries in the African region are impacted by climate change, she insisted that, for this reason, unions need to urge governments to provide teachers with training.

“We must also ensure that climate change education is gender-responsive and draws on Indigenous knowledge,” Hopgood said.

COP26 “could be a pivotal moment. Call on governments to make ambitious commitments on climate change education and climate justice. Let’s unite for climate justice!” she exclaimed.

“Education is central, can reverse trends, and mitigate the effects of climate change. As educators, we have a responsibility to reverse these trends. We need to advocate for climate change education to be inserted in curricula at all education levels, because it should be reflected in teaching and learning materials.”

Christian Addai-Pokku, Chairperson of the EIRAF Committee

2021: A crucial year to turn things around

Won Jung Byun, Senior Project Officer at UNESCO’s Section of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) quoted UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said the report published in August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a “code red for humanity”.

Education is the way to go forward to change our behaviour and address this great challenge, she highlighted.

One UNESCO survey has shown that, while almost 90 per cent of teachers are interested in climate change, only one in three feel they can explain it in their own environments, Byun added.

She insisted that, in UNESCO’s view, climate education should equip individuals, communities, and the wider world with the understanding, skills, values, and attitudes to engage in transformative action for shaping green, low emission, and climate-resilient societies. It prepares them to live with the impacts of climate change and become global citizens who care for the planet.

Speaking about UNESCO’s work on climate education, Byun said that it aims to:

  • Support member states to meet Paris Agreement obligations regarding education.
  • Advocate for climate change and education at the global level (e.g., at COPs).
  • Develop guidance documents and teaching and learning materials.
  • Mobilise schools, conduct pilot projects, and training.
  • Showcase good practices.

She also mentioned the Berlin Declaration on ESD adopted in May 2021 at the UNESCO World Conference on ESD. Its shows UNESCO member states’ commitment to ESD as a core curriculum component and, importantly, recognises the crucial role of teachers.

2021 is “a crucial year to turn things around and address climate issues”, Byun stressed.

Addressing ESD at the African regional level, she said that 11 Southern African countries are engaged in the Sustainability Starts with Teachers programme, ensuring that:

  • Sustainability principles are integrated into education and training environments, with emphasis on curriculum change in teacher education institutions and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college programmes.
  • ESD capacity of teacher education and TVET institutions are enhanced via an ESD regional training programme.
  • ESD is reinforced in national and international education and sustainable development policies with emphasis on policies influencing the education of teachers and TVET educators for Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (Target 4.7).
  • ESD professional networks are strengthened in Southern Africa.

“COP26 could be a pivotal moment. Call on governments to make ambitious commitments on climate change education and climate justice. Let’s unite for climate justice!”

Susan Hopgood, Education International’s President

Collecting evidence of the importance of education in the fight against climate crisis

Africa Climate Foundation (ACF) Senior Research Advisor Ellen Davies explained that, founded in April 2010, ACF works at the nexus of climate change and development to support climate change interventions that have the greatest potential to deliver long-term socio-economic transformation and inclusive development.

Ellen Davies

“African countries have contributed to greenhouse gas emissions the least, are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, and are the least capacitated to mitigate these impacts,” she underlined. “The challenge is to meet the development needs in Africa while protecting against climate change impacts.”

In the current COP negotiations, she said, key challenges are:

  • Vaccine inequity has meant that many African participants are unable to attend.
  • The focus is on mitigation and getting all countries to commit to cutting emissions.
  • Adaption and loss and damage – issues of concern to African countries are not being prioritised.
  • Developed countries are not delivering on their financial commitments to support the developing world.

“We need to carve out new paths of development than can simultaneously address climate change and meet our development objectives,” Davies stressed. “But these new paths must focus on the needs of our most vulnerable people and deliver a transition that is just and inclusive.”

To achieve this, “education is key”, she acknowledged, as it:

  • Evidences the importance of addressing climate change to meeting our development goals
  • Builds the skills necessary to capture the benefits of the green economy
  • Empowers the new generation of leaders to deliver on our climate and development priorities
  • Supports and enables a just transition by asking the right questions
  • Helps unlock innovation and thought leadership
  • Builds the capacity of African people
  • Elevates Africa’s voice as a continent

She added that ACF is collecting evidence of the importance of education in the fight against climate crisis with the support of diverse partners at regional and global levels.

A panel discussion then tackled the issues of climate justice in the different African subregions, with representatives from education unions in Zimbabwe, Chad, and Malawi, as well as from the All-Africa Students’ Union.

Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All

Acknowledging that “climate change is a passionate issue for many students and young people around the world”, Education International’s Campaigns and Communications Director, Rebeca Logan, highlighted Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All. This instrument outlines the teaching profession’s vision for quality climate change education and the policy framework necessary to implement it, she said.

Through this Manifesto, educators globally call on all governments to deliver on their commitments to climate change education and education for sustainable development in the Paris Agreement (Article 12) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Targets 4.7, 12.8, and 13.3).

This Manifesto revolves around five priority themes:

  1. Governments ensure quality climate change education (CCE) for all.
  2. Every student leaves education climate-literate and equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle climate change, adapt to uncertainties, and take part in building a more sustainable future.
  3. Quality CCE is based on science, and addresses the ethical, cultural, political, social, and economic dimensions of climate change.
  4. Teachers are trained and supported to provide quality CCE.
  5. Schools and learning environments are transformed, to support quality CCE.

She explained that Education International and educators worldwide want to ensure that governments commit to quality education for all, and ensure education unions, student organisations, and Indigenous groups are part of the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies.

Launch of the Climate Change Network for Africa

In his concluding remarks, EIRAF Director Dennis Sinyolo acknowledged that “our planet is melting and all of us have an obligation to arrest this”.

“Education is a powerful tool to fight climate change, but only if climate change education is included in curricula.”

Warning that “human greed is threatening to destroy these oases of hope”, Sinyolo reiterated that “it is important to tap into our ancestors’ knowledge”.

For him, at COP26, governments must make clear commitments and take concrete measures to address climate change.

Sinyolo also officially launched the Climate Change Network for Africa. “As educators, we need to lead by example, take action, and put pressure on our governments to act now. Let’s continue to lead with our students, communities, parents to mobilise for climate justice; and we shall achieve it!”