This is the text of the letter sent this week by Zamzam Ibrahim, the President of SOS_UK and the NUS to the Prime Minister reminding him that, thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher called for urgent action on the greenhouse effect at the UN General Assembly. The letter asks for the Prime Minister’s personal help in ensuring that the education system is a central pillar of your Government’s strategy on climate change.
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street London
20 January 2020
Dear Prime Minister
Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher called for urgent action on the greenhouse effect at the UN General Assembly. After many years of slow progress, it seems the world is now finally awakening to the need for urgent substantive action. I’m really pleased the UK secured COP 26 and am sure that your Government will be planning lots of big and transformational announcements on climate change in the run up to the summit, to ensure that Britain remains a true global leader on this absolutely crucial agenda.
I am writing to you ask for your personal help in ensuring that the education system is a central pillar of your Government’s strategy on climate change. As you might know, Italy, Russia and New Zealand have all recently made announcements on climate education. As a recent finance graduate who was taught nothing about climate change, a young person that has been elected to represent seven million students, and someone who has been involved in the Fridays for the Future strikes, I think it is vital the Government helps the education system to teach students, at all levels, about the climate emergency. The education system must start preparing students to deliver the transition to net zero- carbon whilst also developing resilience we will need for a hotter and more unstable climate, and the socio-economic implications that will come with that. Knowing the sector as I do, I cannot see education providers and institutions taking substantive joined-up action on this now, or at any time in the near future, without the implicit support and encouragement of central Government.
I believe we need much more than just compulsory education on climate change and a focus on low- carbon skills. At NUS, SOS and UKSCN we’ve given this lots of thought and have come up with, what we believe, are some pragmatic recommendations for education policy responses, our plan for climate education, and have packaged them up into our Teach the Future campaign. The ideas have mostly been inspired by what we have learnt from other countries, although no single country has done as much as we are suggesting, so there is a great leadership opportunity ahead of COP. I have appended the main suggestions to this letter, and you can read more at www.teachthefuture.uk.
Although Teach the Future only launched in October 2019, we have secured the support of all of the main environmental charities and some of the main teaching unions. We have arranged a parliamentary reception on Wednesday 26 February 2020 4-6pm to start to engage MPs, Peers and key influencers in the education in tackling the climate emergency. I would very much like to meet with you, ahead of our reception, so we can discuss how we, as a movement of passionate young people, can best support your Government in this vital work.
I also invite you to speak at the reception, if you are willing, so you can demonstrate a personal commitment to this agenda, as that will be a tremendous boost to our cause.
I very much look forward to your response. Yours Sincerely,
President SOS and NUS ZamZam.Ibrahim@nus.org.uk
cc: Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education; Claire O’Neill, President of COP26; Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change
Appendix: Teach the Future policy recommendations
- A government commissioned independent review into how the whole of the English formal education system is preparing students for the climate emergency and ecological crisis, in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies
- Inclusion of the climate emergency and ecological crisis in English teacher standards, as they are in Scotland
- An English Climate Education Act. This would mirror the US Defence Education Act, which was a big investment in STEM at all levels of the US education system and is credited with helping the US win the space race. This could include funding for upskilling teachers and lecturers, further education centers of excellence on vocational green skills, and some form of institute to produce teaching materials and disseminate scientific information to education providers.
- A national Climate Emergency Youth Voice grant fund. This would help establish youth advisory panels in education providers and public bodies
- A national Youth Climate Endowment Fund. This would fund youth environmental social action in every school, college and university
- Changes to regulations and provision of extra funding so that all new state-funded educational buildings are net-zero from 2022, and all existing state-funded educational buildings are retrofitted to net-zero by 2030, as a national infrastructural priority
More detail is provided in this policy paper.