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

Education unions build power for climate justice

published 19 October 2022 updated 24 October 2022

Last week representatives from education unions across the world came together online to share experiences, build power, and strategise to advance Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign.

Hosted by Education International, the 6th quarterly meeting of the campaign network took place less than a month before the yearly global climate conference, COP 27. It provided an opportunity for information sharing in the lead up to this key advocacy moment, as well as for an exchange of perspectives on climate advocacy at the national level.

Ensuring a just transition for educators

The meeting opened with a conversation with researcher Alanah Torralba who conducted a study exploring education unions’ vision for a just transition in the education sector.

The study, Educators on a Heating Planet: Shaping Education Unions’ Vision for a Just Transition finds that educators are on the frontlines of climate change: every day, they are contending with the worst consequences of changes to the world’s climate. From extreme hurricanes and storms to massive flooding, prolonged droughts, severe heatwaves, and sinking islands, climate change is already altering the education sector in indirect yet profound ways. Thus, educators are key stakeholders in the discussions surrounding climate action and the crucial project of shifting to a low-carbon world.

According to Torralba: "Educators are highly concerned about the impacts of climate change on the sector. They are united in saying that education systems are ill-prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, which could also be attributed to the intensifying privatization of the sector. Hence, a just transition in education must primarily address the adaptation needs of educators and it also necessarily means a rejection of privatization. It must also include strengthening social protection schemes for educators, who are 'second responders' to the climate crisis. Finally, educators feel that they are intrinsically part of the communities that they serve and therefore their professional concerns cannot be separated from the concerns of the collective. Through a just transition framework, educators are finding a more hopeful and strategic view of workers fighting for climate justice and a better world."

Climate firmly on the agenda at the Transforming Education Summit

The campaign network also discussed the outcomes of the Transforming Education Summit, held at the UN in New York in September. Participants welcomed the focus on climate education during the Summit, noting that the Youth Declaration called for investment in climate education; young climate activist, Vanessa Nakate opened the conference calling for climate justice; and the UN Secretary General urged countries to reform curricula and pedagogy to advance education for sustainable development. Education International Executive Board members Randi Weingarten and Johanna Jaara Astrand made interventions highlighting the importance of quality climate change education for all.

Regarding outcomes, one third of the national commitments made at the Summit included a commitment to integrating climate change education into curricula and to efforts to ensure school infrastructure exemplify carbon neutrality. The Summit was also the site for the launch of the Greening Education Partnership, a UNESCO-led initiative to enhance education for sustainable development within schools, communities, teacher training and student learning.

Education unions for climate justice at COP 27

The network discussed EI’s top demands for the Conference, which are included in EI’s COP 27 toolkit. The toolkit aims to support education unions in their national advocacy efforts and draws on a growing collection of EI research, including research on a just transition, teacher readiness to teach climate education and education’s inclusion in nationally determined contributions.

With COP held this year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, participants highlighted the importance of seeing through the Egyptian regime’s greenwashing efforts and supporting local activists campaigning for human and trade union rights, freedom of speech, open civic space and the release of the ( estimated 60 000) political prisoners in the country.

COP 27 will include a ministerial meeting on climate education and a meeting to advance the Greening Education partnership. EI will also host a side event on educators and the just transition. You can follow EI’s engagement on social media and the Teach for the Planet campaign page and take part in the Global Day of Action for climate justice in your country on the 12th November.

Climate network members leading the way

Network members from every region shared experiences. Some reported on the impact of climate change on educators and education. For instance, we heard that in Fiji, students, teachers and communities living along the coastlines are having to be relocated due to rising sea levels and three more major cyclones are expected in the coming months. In the UK, we heard that extreme summer heatwaves had presented a dilemma – should schools be closed to keep children safe, or should school stay open to provide sanctuaries? With a lack of clear guidance from government, the union decided to advise educators to keep schools open, as students living in poverty faced suffering even higher temperatures at home.

Other unions spoke about priorities for the campaign. For instance, Sifiso Ndluvo, Executive Director of ZIMTA, Zimbabwe, highlighted that the climate crisis threatens inclusive economic development, peace and security, and democracy. Climate concerns need to be taken into account when decisions are made on development financing. SNTE, Mexico, noted that making progress on advocating for climate recovery requires commitment and collaboration across all sectors, as well as linking advocacy efforts with other intersecting work such as on broader environmental issues and gender equality.

The network’s next meeting will be held in December.