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On the road to COP27, the MENA region is far behind on climate change education ambition

published 21 March 2022 updated 10 May 2022
written by:

Next week, the United Arab Emirates will host the first ever Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Climate Week. Many of the international delegates from last year’s COP26 will kickstart their journey to COP27 (to be held in November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt) by looking to the MENA region for leadership, partnerships, and collaborations that enhance global climate ambition and climate action. One area requiring greater ambition by countries is quality climate change education for all. Will the MENA region help lead the global charge?

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Based on the region’s performance on the Education International Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card, it’s not clear whether we’ll be able to count on a MENA climate change education champion any time soon. The region has much work to do to increase its own level of climate change education ambition, let alone lead others to ratchet up theirs. But the year has just begun, and there is still time for a few forerunner countries to step up to the challenge.

In anticipation of MENA Climate Week, and to help nudge advocates in the region, this blog highlights which countries fared relatively well and on which indicators of climate change education ambition, and where more leadership and attention are needed. EI Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card scores were derived from an analysis of updated, revised, or new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by 19 MENA countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as of January 26, 2022. [1] The analysis is part of an ongoing study of NDCs that I am conducting with Education International as part of its #Teach4ThePlanet campaign.

How did MENA countries fare on their climate change education ambition?

In short, climate change education ambition by the MENA region is poor—far less than global climate change education ambition (at least as of September 30, 2021). The highest raw score of any NDC from the MENA region was Jordan’s NDC at 38% (out of 100%), followed by Qatar’s NDC at 24%. Compare this to the highest raw score globally by Cambodia’s NDC (58%).

Only 5 NDCs from the MENA region even reference climate change education: Georgia, Jordan, Mauritania, Tunisia, and Qatar. Notably, these countries scored the highest in the region: C, A, B, B, and B, respectively, on their Climate Change Education Ambition Report Cards. In terms of pervasiveness, a metric intended to measure the extent of policy integration of climate change education, none of these 5 countries is calling for the compulsory teaching of climate change education in schools. Tunisia’s discussions of climate change education do not even reference the education of children and youth, but rather is targeted to students of higher education and to professionals, like parliamentarians, journalists, and water sector decision makers. Only Jordan’s NDC suggests that climate change education should reach students across all levels of education.

When it comes to the quality of climate change education—a metric for gauging policy attention to 8 indicators of educational quality, including education that is not just about climate change but for climate action—no NDC in the region satisfied more than 3 indicators. Jordan’s and Qatar’s NDCs call for climate change education that foster’s student’s civic engagement and climate action. For instance, Jordan’s NDC states that “Understanding the causes, impacts and solutions for climate change is now a priority area for education to prepare students to take active roles in addressing climate change impacts” ( p. 54). While Tunisia’s NDC calls for a gender-responsive climate change education—one that takes into account the specific needs of girls and boys—no NDC in the MENA region calls for climate change education that takes an intersectional approach (e.g. teaching how climate vulnerability intersects with gender inequality, environmental racism, economic marginalization, etc.). And while 8 NDCs from the region recognize that vulnerable populations like girls and women or people with disabilities may be differentially impacted by climate change, none mention the need to attend to issues of climate justice.

In terms of a focus on the breadth of green skills or the need for education to provide learners with pathways to future careers in the green economy—two additional indicators of quality climate change education—only 4 NDCs made the grade. Most references to green skills fell in the category of technical skills like green technology, proposal writing, conducting inventories of country greenhouse gas emissions, or climate modeling. Only 1 NDC (Tunisia’s) mentions the need to build transformative green skills that could help address underlying systems of inequity that place a disproportionate burden of climate vulnerability on the shoulders of already marginalized populations. For instance, Tunisia’s NDC states that it must “Strengthen the skills of parliamentarians and local government officials in the areas of communication, gender ethics and gender intersectionality, and its transversality in environmental and climate policies” ( p. 64).

When it comes to indicators of inclusion, the region fared relatively well when it came to recognizing vulnerable populations. However, when it comes to the education sector’s key stakeholders, mainly students and teachers, the region did poorly. For instance, while 14 NDCs in the region mention education, only 6 actually reference the education of children and youth. Only 1 NDC (Qatar’s) recognizes that students, once aware of climate change and conscious of their carbon footprint, can play an important role in not only greening the education sector but also broader society—by “banning single-use plastics” and “develop[ing] sustainable countermeasures” ( p. 8).

When it comes to teachers, the region has nearly overlooked them. Only 2 NDCs mention teachers at all (Georgia and Qatar). Qatar’s NDC calls on the need to “enhanc[e] teachers’ training on climate change topics in order to enable educators to present the topics of sustainability and environmental development in an appealing manner to students, and to foster behavioral changes in the long-term” ( p. 8). None of the region’s NDCs mention consulting teachers as climate stakeholders or viewing teacher unions as key stakeholder groups in the process of developing the NDC.

Indeed, education systems strengthening—another metric of the Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card—fared the worst in terms of scores by countries in the MENA region. In addition to overlooking teacher training and teacher professional development opportunities, no NDC mentioned the need for international cooperation to support national efforts to deliver climate change education nor that more funding needs to be directed to the education system. The only systems strengthening indicator that countries appeared to be attentive to was the need to make education infrastructure greener and/or more climate resilient (4 countries: Jordan, Mauritania, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia).

What entry points may help to galvanize more attention to CCE in the MENA region?

To understand opportunities for advocacy in the region, we examined the data for trends but found few patterns. For instance, in the MENA region, country climate vulnerability appears to bear no influence on whether the country’s NDC pays attention to vulnerable populations, like children and youth or women and girls. Nor does country climate vulnerability appear to bear any influence on whether the country’s NDCs pays attention to climate solutions like education that could reduce individual climate vulnerability and strengthen both individual and collective climate resilience and adaptive capacity. Both are patterns that we observed in the global dataset.

In addition, of the 19 countries in the MENA region that have submitted an updated, revised, or new NDC, 3 (Mauritania, Somalia, and Sudan) are countries where children shoulder extremely high or high climate risk. Yet only 1 of these countries’ NDCs (Mauritania) references climate change education and the education of children and youth (see Table 1).

To be clear, all countries regardless of climate vulnerability or climate responsibility should attend to climate change education. This includes countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have the second and third highest emissions in the MENA region [2]; and Qatar, which has the highest emissions per capita in the world but is ranked the most climate vulnerable in the region. (Notably, Qatar’s NDC scored second highest in the region for its climate change education policy ambition.) Yet countries in the MENA region appear not to be connecting the dots between emissions contributions, climate vulnerability, climate risk, and the education solutions that could help change behaviors and mitigate against further environmental damage and help people adapt to the effects of climate change. This suggests education advocates in the region must focus on raising awareness among decisionmakers of the missed opportunity to strengthen the climate resilience of the MENA region through quality climate change education for all.

With heightened attention on the MENA region ahead of COP27 in Egypt, the region’s current climate change education ambition is alarming. In order for society to make meaningful progress on climate action, the region must ratchet up its leadership role and become a climate change education champion. It can do this by:

  • Funding, resourcing, and strengthening education systems as a climate-relevant sector;
  • Prioritizing quality climate change education as a climate strategy and ensuring it is based on science, oriented to climate action, and takes an intersectional approach to climate justice; and
  • Involving teachers and educators as key stakeholders in climate policy and decision making.

Education leaders in the region can facilitate this process by helping to:

  • Identify the barriers and capacity needs of the education workforce and education systems in the MENA region to address the climate crisis;
  • Localize and contextualize regional best practices in the integration of climate change education in NDCs, especially for the benefit of the most vulnerable and marginalized students; and
  • Utilize mechanisms like the EI Climate Change Education Ambition Report Card to hold national and regional decision makers accountable for climate change education policy and implementation.

It’s only the beginning of the road to COP27. With these baseline scores in mind, let’s use this early start to make some improvements.

1. ^

MENA countries whose updated, revised, or new NDCs were included in this analysis are: Armenia, Bahrain, Comoros, Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates. Cyprus was excluded as it is a member of the EU and therefore was included in the EU’s NDC submission.

2. ^

Iran is the highest carbon emitter in the MENA region, but has not yet submitted an NDC.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.