Education is now on the agenda at COP 26, but there is more work to be done

published 10 November 2021 updated 16 November 2021

Education International (EI), has brought the voice of teachers to the COP2 conference in Glasgow to ensure that education is not overlooked as a necessary component in tackling the climate crisis.

Education was on the agenda at COP more than ever before, and more and more governments, organisations, and activists are recognising climate change education as a fundamental component for a sustainable future and a just transition. EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, speaking in multiple events and panels, emphatically emphasised the need to guarantee quality climate change education for all, and highlighted teachers’ crucial role in educating for climate action. In dialogue with a range of actors including policy makers, teachers, students and civil society, she underscored educators around the world are motivated to teach for the planet but need an enabling policy environment to do so, including curricular reform, training on teaching climate change, relevant teaching and learning materials in multiple languages and professional autonomy.

First of its kind summit

The “Together for Tomorrow: Education and Climate Action” Summit – the first of its kind - put climate education in the spotlight, as education and environment ministers from around the world pledged to enhance climate education in their countries. Over 20 pledges were made, with in person speeches given by ministers from the U.K. Scotland, Italy, Malawi, Colombia, Japan and Greece. Notably, Malawi committed to climate-proofing education institutions and gender-responsiveness, whilst Greece committed to training for educators.

The UK, as COP presidency, sought to lead by example as the UK Secretary of State of Education, Nadhim Zahawi, outlined the UK’s new strategy on sustainability and climate education. EI member organisations in the UK welcomed the proposals but urged the government to be even more ambitious. “Schools need greater support and resources from Government to de-carbonise and ensure they can be sustainable” said NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach. The UCU noted the continuing need to ensure that climate education is properly resourced for the existing workforce in terms of continuing professional development and reflected in manageable workloads.

In her opening remarks, Stefania Giannini, the Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO called for a culture of care – care for the planet and for each other - and argued for dramatic change to stop education being sidelined in the climate debate.

Climate education developed with students and unions

Student voices from across the world were also heard during the summit, with young activists pointing out that climate education cannot just be an add on, it must be integrated through a whole school approach, and every student, whatever they study, must be a sustainability student. They also pointed out that climate education must be developed with young people, not for them, and importantly, that governments need to invest in teachers.

The UK and Italy’s co-chairs conclusions from the Summit recognised the critical role played by education and learning in the transition towards a climate positive future. Further, they committed to the integration of climate change as a core curricular component, in guidelines, teacher training, examination standards, and at multiple levels through institutions. However, they were deafeningly silent on the participation of educators and their unions in co-constructing climate education policies, human rights, or the role of education to ensure a just transition.

EI welcomes the increased recognition of education at COP 26, but there is still much more work to be done. Moving towards COP 27, education unions have a critical role to play in holding governments to account for implementation for pledges made, as well as calling for more ambitious and numerous pledges in Egypt next year.