A new paper from the Christina Kwauk at the Brookings Institute – Roadblocks to quality education in an era of climate change – has four goals.

– First, it sets out to illustrate why more attention to, and investment in, education as a means of reducing risk and increasing informed action about climate change is needed, “lest the technofixes of today lack political will and localized solutions for sustained, collective climate change action in the future.”

– Second, it describes the current policy landscape for education in climate action, and climate in education.

– Third, the paper presents five underlying challenges preventing the formal education sector from taking a more proactive role in climate action. Such roadblocks, the paper argues, can become entry points for policy and action.

– Finally, the paper lays out three actions that education and climate actors can take to not only chart a roadmap for the education sector in climate action, but also to generate a new set of game-changing rules.

This is the first part of the Executive Summary:

“In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report that spelled out a dire vision of the future for planet Earth if climate action around the world is not accelerated by 2030. [1]  Out of the commentary that emerged, few have championed the report’s acknowledgment that education, especially informed by indigenous and local knowledge, can help to 1) accelerate the widescale behavioral change needed for an equitable system-wide transition to a carbon neutral economy, and 2) build competencies and knowledge to enhance innovation and the policy and technological adaptation required to limit global warming to 1.5°C. [2]

The lack of education champions within the global climate “policyscape” is fueled in part by an overemphasis of political attention and financial resources—when attention and resources are given at all—toward efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the global education community’s attention and resources have been fractured by many development priorities, diluting the efficacy of its power to be a game-changer in climate action. [3]

The urgency of the climate crisis demands not only greater coherence and coordination of education efforts, but also a deep re-examination of the education sector’s role in the perpetuation of the status quo.  This applies across formal education institutions (primary, secondary, and tertiary school), non-formal programs (often delivered by nongovernmental or community-based organizations), and informal spaces (on the radio, in libraries, museums, or even grocery stores and bus stops).  It also demands attention from children, youth, and adults in both high-carbon emitting and low-carbon emitting countries, as well as within and across sectors (e.g., education, energy, transportation, agriculture, and urban planning).  …”

The report concludes:

“Given the role that education can play in increasing human resiliency and adaptability to uncertain futures, as well as its role in equipping the population with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to mitigate against further environmental damage, we must transform education as we currently know it.  Inaction on this front would mean that we cannot move at the pace and scale that is required to reverse our current climate breakdown.  At the same time, not critically reflecting on whether the education of today is the education we need leaves us with the possibility that human society will be in a perpetual battle to shift consumer behaviors, social values, and attitudes.  Such an approach is unsustainable.

While the year 2019 may have been marked by polarized action between student activists and school leadership, the year 2020 poses an opportunity to scrutinize the education sector as we have the energy sector.  More and more development stakeholders are beginning to recognize that climate change threatens to forestall their sector’s progress toward achieving the SDGs. [103]  As school children striking around the world continue to force educators and politicians to ask about the role of the education sector in climate action, the global education community must leverage this political moment for radical educational transformation.”

The full paper can be down-loaded here.  We’d be delighted to hear from anyone with comments on this report, especially about its relevance to the UK context, and particularly about whether you think it says anything useful for us.


1 IPCC (2018), p. 32.

2 See chapters four and five in the IPCC Special Report. Note that the language the IPCC used to describe education takes on a behaviorist flavor, which posits that good educators can make people behave in the right way. Such a paradigm contrasts with one that views education as a critical, reflexive process that opens new ways of seeing oneself in relation to the world, and thus leading one to act accordingly (Jickling, B., personal communication, January 23, 2020).

3 In this paper, the term “global education community” is used to loosely describe the sum of education actors, globally (civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government ministries, activists and advocates, etc.). The term does not imply that this collective set of actors views themselves as a single, cohesive community. The term “education sector” is used to describe the systems of education delivery (schools, school systems, ministries of education, etc.), while “education” refers to the process of teaching and learning.

103 See for example, the outcomes of the UNESCO Global Education Meeting (2018).

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