» UN climate summit says education primes societies for global change
17.11.2016 - Education Sector

UN climate summit says education primes societies for global change


The role of education in preparing societies for global change and a greener future was the message at a thematic day held during the UN climate conference COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco (8-15 November, 2016).

UNESCO, with national, international and UN partners, organized a number of side-events and roundtables throughout the day on 14 November, focusing on the role of education in the implementation of the Paris Agreement and in particular on the nationally determined commitments (NDCs) of each country.

The day began with a high-level panel discussion presided by HRH Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco at which UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova stressed that “education is key for a green future”. It plays a critical role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and putting into practice the global agreement on climate change. With Ms Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Ms Bokova called for countries to step up action in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and implement article 12 of the Paris Agreement on education.

At an afternoon roundtable, “Sustainability starts with educators”, co-organized with Education International, international experts and practitioners discussed how educators can integrate climate change teaching and learning into formal and non-formal settings. Julia Heiss, ESD Team Leader at UNESCO, said: “Teachers bear a compelling responsibility to develop competencies of learners but also to change their mind-sets and lifestyles towards more sustainable ones. Therefore, they need to be supported, adequately recruited, trained and motivated, and have the confidence to teach sustainability.”

Three teachers from UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) in Africa shared climate projects undertaken in their schools. Mr Akissi Alhious Honoré Yapo of the Lycée Sainte Marie de Cocody in Côte d’Ivoire explained how students recycled waste to make compost which they used to nurture a forest whose medicinal plants and food products they learned to grow, use and sell to the community. He said: “This is a long-term investment. The adults of the community learn from the students, but what is even more important is than once they start their own family in around ten years’ time, sustainability will be part of the daily life of the whole family.”

Traditional knowledge plays a key role

A panel discussion, “Leaving no one behind in climate change education”, organized by the UN Alliance on Climate Change Education, Training and Public Awareness of which UNESCO is a member, focused on the role and initiatives of vulnerable groups in climate action. Experts and representatives of indigenous peoples, refugees, disabled people, youth and women’s organizations, highlighted the importance of ensuring that the rights, needs and contributions of different learners are taken into account when designing and promoting climate change education. For example, the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples has an important role to play in climate mitigation and adaptation. Angus Mackay from UNITAR emphasized that “We not only need to reach out to the furthest but we also have to be receptive of their messages, wisdom and knowledge with respect to climate change.”  

UNESCO organized a series of short discussions on ESD at a dedicated exhibition space covering themes such as water education, green economies and green skills, and scaling ESD. UNESCO ASPnet teachers discussed how students can be mobilized for climate action.

In addition UNESCO launched two new publications: PLANET: Education for environmental sustainability and green growth” by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report which analyzes how education enables individuals to better cope with, and reduce their vulnerability to, the dangers associated with climate change; and “Action for Climate Empowerment: Guidelines for accelerating solutions through education, training and public awareness”, a guidance document for policy-makers, developed in collaboration with UNFCCC.

Finally, Ms Bokova presented UNESCO’s Green Citizens project which showcases outstanding ESD projects from around the world in a photo exhibition. The travelling exhibition  is at Marrakech Menara Airport until end of November, and tours other Moroccan airports until March 2017.

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