Climate change

COP27: Sealing education’s role in climate action

COP27 is bringing green education further into the climate change policy mainstream, writes Eleanor Staines Shaw, but action is still not urgent enough

COP27 is bringing green education further into the climate change policy mainstream, writes Eleanor Staines Shaw, but action is still not urgent enough

18 Nov 2022, 5:00

It’s easy to get drawn into the insane amount of greenwashing that companies and governments engage in and to feel disheartened when the news only showcases failures. However, a lot of good came out of COP26  in Glasgow last year and this year’s COP27 is building on that. Change mostly happens from the outside and works its way in, and there’s plenty of evidence that education’s place as a change-maker is no longer on the sidelines.

Last year’s conference was a landmark moment for climate education with the first dialogue between global education and environment ministers and the unveiling of the Department for Education’s draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. I can still remember the empowerment I felt when I took part in a panel at the launch of the draft strategy as a pupil member of the UK Schools Sustainability Network (UKSSN).

I also remember the shock of hearing in the news that nothing much had come out of all that international energy. But I remain hopeful. The full DfE strategy published earlier this year, for example, is incredibly exciting (barring some important points that need addressing). It makes me jealous of anyone who still has most of their school life ahead of them. 

The mobilisation of people in the streets and the policies and panels untainted by greenwashing are hopeful signs that change is happening. Meanwhile, a crucial part of tackling greenwashing is to keep holding leaders accountable, so while I can’t be at COP27, I’ve been keeping a close eye on proceedings.

The events that I’ve tuned into, including the Climate and Education Hub and the UK Pavilion panel ‘Creating a sustainable future through education’, are full of people saying realistic and radically hopeful things. Moreover, every time I’ve logged on to our UKSSN site, I’ve seen more new photos of our COP27 asks and letter to the DfE being handed to those with power – and it’s uplifting.

Education’s place as a change-maker is no longer on the sidelines

I also heard from Ana Romero, the staff lead for the UKSSN Berkshire network and a COP negotiator for Mexico, who told us about events involving many organisations and NGOs that highlighted the essential role education plays in tackling climate change.

COP27 has been a great success from Ana’s point of view because an agreed action plan acknowledges a wide range of human rights for the programme she works on. Action for Climate Empowerment is the central platform of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change for empowering the public to engage in climate action through education and training.

Meanwhile, the National Education Union’s COP27 representative, Jenny Cooper, has reported the emphasis at side events and meetings on consulting young people and delivering on education. Many have been attended by UK government representatives.

Jenny believes that every government needs an urgent strategy to make our schools resilient to the impacts of extreme weather events. The union’s call at COP27 for more engagement with its members on climate education is vital. After all, the government will need their support (with public funds) if it is to deliver its strategy and not see it written off as another attempt at greenwashing.

On the whole, I’m not hopeful that we’ll see the urgent change that science says we need. However, calls for change are moving from the outside into the centre meaning we can forge change for ourselves.

The language of urgency, zero tolerance of delay and calls for support are all heartening for green education. So are the steps many schools are already taking to decarbonise their estates. Let’s see what another year of holding ministers accountable can deliver.

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