G20 education ministers urged to back climate education

| June 5, 2021

Education Ministers from across the globe are being urged to prioritise quality climate education as a major outcome at the next UN Climate Conference when they meet in Italy as part of the Group of 20 (G20) round of meetings.

An international alliance of labour and teachers’ unions, green groups, youth and parents’ organisations, research institutes, and international organisations issued a statement today underlining the importance of climate literate citizens in combatting climate change.

The groups involved, representing hundreds of millions of people across the globe, also see quality climate education linked to strong civic engagement as key to better decision-making by governments, green jobs, and building a new, stronger, and more sustainable 21st century economy.

The Joint Civil Society Statement on Climate Education Ambition, focusing on the G20 meeting in Sicily on 22 June, argues technological shifts and innovations in areas such as clean energy and electric mobility will be crucial towards achieving the goals of the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement.

But it also states that without the behavioral change made possible through climate and environmental literacy, the long-term goal of ‘net zero’ by 2050, to which increasing numbers of nations aspire as the safety line, will be tough to realise—if not impossible.

Research suggests that individual behaviour changes around food and waste, agriculture, transport, and heating can reduce 20-37% of emissions—this is vital for the world to keep climate change in check and within science-based safety limits, the statement argues.

David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, which represents nearly 33 million unionised teachers in close to 180 countries, said: “2021 needs to be the year where climate education becomes fundamental in every child’s educational life—it also needs to be the year when governments agree that teachers are key to making quality climate education a reality for all students.

“It is fitting that the crucial meeting of G20 Education Ministers is happening under the Presidency of Italy, one country that has already announced its commitment and its understanding of the urgent need for quality, compulsory, climate education.”

Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, said: “Early studies suggest that students who learn about climate action influence not just their own choices, but their families’ and communities’ as well. Education systems should urgently empower young people with the knowledge, skills, and mindset to act on climate in their families and communities.”

Kathleen Rogers, President of EARTHDAY.ORG, said: “We wanted to issue this collective statement to let the Italian G20 Presidency and the G20 Education Ministers know that a strong outcome on climate education would have strong backing worldwide—citizens, labour, teachers, youth, parents, development organisations, academics, and green groups are right behind them.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said: “Climate education and environmental literacy is going to be a cornerstone upon which a sustainable, net zero economy and climate-friendly jobs can be built now and over the long term. We need governments to step up to this reality sooner rather than later.”

Liesbet Steer, Director of the Education Commission­, a global initiative chaired by UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said: “Creating a climate-literate generation is perhaps the single most valuable public investment to help solve climate change.

“Well-educated citizens are essential to drive the technological and behavioural shifts needed to dramatically improve adaptation and resilience. But under current trends, half of all graduating students in 2030 will be woefully ill-equipped to thrive in our changing world. Education and climate leaders must act together – as more than 600 international organizations, CSOs, and activists have called for in the #SaveOurFuture campaign.”

Since its official launch in September 2020, EARTHDAY.ORG’s Climate and Environmental Literacy Campaign now has over 550 signatories from organisations in over 100 countries representing hundreds of millions of professionals from the environmental, education, faith, justice, and labour sectors. In the education sector, teachers everywhere are mobilising for universal quality climate change education through Education Internationals’ Teach for the Planet campaign.

The G20 Education Ministers Conference, which takes place in Sicily on June 22, comes six months before the UK-Italy hosted UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

Taking place six years after the 2015 UN Climate Conference where the Paris Agreement was adopted, the November conference aims to ratchet up ambition across the climate change challenge.

To date, few countries have included quality or ambitious climate education in their revised national climate action plans. However, a strong outcome from the G20 Education Ministers could change that and open the door to a declaration or decision in Glasgow where governments agree to implement stronger provisions in national education systems under Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.

Read the Joint Civil Society Statement on Climate Education Ambition.

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