Southeast Asian Educators build movement for climate justice and just transition

published 23 May 2024 updated 27 May 2024

Southeast Asian educators convened to demand climate justice and advance a just transition at a three-day conference hosted by Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) in Bangkok, Thailand on April 17-19, 2024.

On its second year, the Educators Stand for Climate Justice and Just Transition conference gathered 50 educator-unionists from Southeast Asia to strengthen capacities in advocating for climate justice and a just transition in the education sector.

In his progress report, EIAP Regional Director Anand Singh reiterated that climate change is deepening existing inequalities in education.

“Across the Asia Pacific, many teachers work in schools that are ill-equipped to withstand severe climate impacts. Be it scorching heatwaves or violent storms, educational facilities are among the first to buckle. This reality underscores our schools’ urgent need for climate-resilient infrastructure, ensuring they remain sanctuaries of learning and safety amid the changing climate.”

Anand Singh, EIAP Regional Director

Various experts and allies from multilateral agencies and the trade union movement also participated in the event. Joy Hernandez, ITUC-AP senior communications and advocacy officer, highlighted the need for workers’ participation in mapping a just transition to a low-carbon economy in Southeast Asia. “Workers must not be left behind in the transition into a low carbon economy. A way to ensure this is by giving them a seat at the table when planning and implementing just transition proposals…We need strong solidarity within our movement to build workers’ power,” she said. Meanwhile, the ILO’s Pong Sul Ahn delivered a keynote encouraging trade unions to influence decision-making processes for just transition plans. Finally, representatives from the Australian Education Union, Japan Teachers’ Union, Swedish Teachers Union, and Union of Education Norway delivered messages of solidarity for movement-building in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Women lead the way

Women educator-unionists were at the forefront of discussions about the priorities for climate justice in Southeast Asia and the political barriers unions face. In the Philippines, for instance, neoliberal education policies hinder unions in advocating quality climate education for all. In Malaysia, awareness of the impacts of climate change and urgent climate action is lacking. Meanwhile in Cambodia, participation of education unions in crafting climate education curriculum is limited, which means developing well-coordinated networks among teachers’ unions for professional development programmes in climate education would be vital. In Myanmar, there is a need to improve the curriculum so that it can reflect effective policy solutions to climate change. Southeast Asian educators were united in recognizing the need to gain a deeper understanding of climate change and its attendant justice dimensions so that they will be able to contextualize these urgent issues to their students and respective communities.

Just transition at the centre

During the conference, just transition as an advocacy framework and policy goal was also prominently featured. Southeast Asian unionists recognised that climate change will be detrimental to the future of work. There is a need for more serious engagement among education unions in integrating climate justice and just transition demands in their work, both in national and regional contexts, the group agreed. On the local level, unionists have identified engaging with school committees and local government units on climate adaptation-related policies and programmes as a priority. More importantly, Southeast Asian unionists said that the urgency of tackling climate justice demands collective action. This can be done by building union power and international solidarity, the group said.

Dr. Ranjana Das of the University of Delhi and Dr. Sangmu Thendup of Sikkim University spoke about best practices in teaching climate change. A multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the breadth of knowledge and social inquiry at school, and inclusive of many disciplines, must be implemented when teaching climate change as this will produce a holistic understanding of the climate emergency, Das said. Meanwhile, the involvement of communities in climate education and awareness-raising, such as in the case of monasteries in Sikkim and their environmental advocacies, is also important in highlighting the systemic nature of climate change, according to Thendup.

In her closing remarks, Education International president Susan Hopgood noted the progress that EIAP’s climate programme has achieved since 2021. She added that education unions’ national action plans will be important contributions for building a movement of well-informed and committed educators for climate justice and a just transition. “The discussions that you’ve had amongst yourselves, where you’ve shared valuable insights about each of your country’s experiences on climate education have been spaces for strategising for a just transition in the education sector. These also help strengthen the trade union movement and build international solidarity,” she said.