It was heartening to see such a strong focus on education at COP28 over the past two weeks. International organisations, governments and the private sector all emphasised the importance of education in tackling the climate crisis, particularly last Friday, when the theme was youth, children, education and skills.
Positioning education as a tool for social transformation, the sustainability and climate unit of the DfE organised a series of events highlighting the important work being done in the UK to promote sustainability and climate education through its Climate Change and Sustainability Strategy.
The UK hopes to become a leader in climate change and sustainability among global education systems by 2030. Baroness Barran described how the country has led several efforts to promote collaboration between nations on climate education that empowers young people. She also shared some of our good practice, including the recent launch of the National Education Nature Park.
This year, the Department for Education also published guidelines to promote sustainability leadership. By 2025, all education settings are expected to have a climate action plan and a nominated sustainability lead. These initiatives have included the perspective of young people and this year, for the first time, a young person is taking the role of Sustainability Focal Point for the DfE. They will be involved in decision-making for national education plans.
A key feature of COP28 was the ‘Greening Education Hub: Legacy from the Land of Zayed’, hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ministry of education, which consisted of more than 185 sessions on greening curriculum, schools and communities. A testament to the value placed on education at the summit, it received over 18,000 visitors in its first week.
Wellington College UK and its international family organised a session within the hub on the subject of successful international collaboration in capacity building practices, with a focus on action for climate empowerment (ACE). During this session, a student Mock COP declaration was presented that represented more than 6,000 students from UK and international schools. The declaration asked decision-makers to acknowledge youth action, recognise international interconnectedness and lead by example in acting to preserve the environment. The initiative was welcomed by Her Excellency Dr Amna Al Dahak Al Shamsi, assistant undersecretary for the care and capacity building sector at the UAE ministry of education.
More broadly, ACE was a key focus within the summit’s high-level negotiations. Education is regarded as crucial to the global response to climate change and young people’s understanding and participation as vital in the transition to a low-emission, climate-resilient world. Indeed, negotiators emphasised the inclusion of education in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
If there is still debate about the outcomes of this summit, one historic milestone was reached: the endorsement of the ‘declaration on the common agenda for education and climate change’. Through it, 38 founding partner countries of the Greening Education Partnership, including the UK, presented their commitment to strengthening education for climate action.
I attended the summit as an educator and a senior adviser negotiating on ACE and capacity building. My main takeaway from these negotiations is that if countries consider education as an essential tool to enable societal and behavioural transformation when it comes to our relationship with nature, then they need to provide the proper financial resources to achieve it.
Here and across the world, young people feel their education systems are not preparing them to navigate a climate crisis we are already confronting, including dealing with climate anxiety. To achieve intergenerational equity, young people must become part of the decision-making process. The importance of not only teaching science-based knowledge about climate change but also including social competencies and skills across the curriculum is becoming increasingly evident.
Empowering young people to take action starts in schools but needs to go beyond the classroom. Education must encourage them to be active citizens in their local communities and in government where possible. The legacy of our mock COP summit will hopefully be to encourage global decision-makers to raise their ambitions in this regard, as well as for quality education.
Meanwhile, we look forward to strong guidance and support from the UK Government on curriculum, skills, careers and estates. Becoming world leaders in climate education depends on it.