24.09.2019 - New York Office

“Changing minds, not the climate”


New York, 22 September 2019: On the margins of the UN Youth Climate Summit, UNESCO and the Government of Japan brought youth activists and policymakers together to discuss the importance of education in climate action.

The roundtable discussion titled “Education for Sustainable Development: Learning for climate action” had youth from around the world engage in education-based responses to climate change and biodiversity loss. They shared their testimonies of how they learnt about climate change and elaborated on the education for climate action they want in schools. Youth speakers also engaged with policymakers and other participants in an interactive dialogue.

Opening the event, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Ms. Stefania Giannini emphasized the need to move from knowledge, to awareness, to action in order to create sustainability change agents. She cited UNESCO’s cross-sectorial approach through Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and called upon governments to integrate climate change education into curricula at all levels.

Ms. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, further elaborated on UNESCO’s holistic and intersectoral approach to climate change. “We must bring together a wide range of stakeholders as climate change requires an integrated approach”, she said.

Mr. Fumiyasu Hirashita, Deputy Director-General for International Affairs, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan, emphasized the priority ESD is accorded by his government and called for “strong cooperation between UNESCO, Japan and other Member States to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build sustainable societies through ESD.”

During the roundtable discussion, youth panelists presented specific examples from their regions. From running workshops in Indonesia’s primary schools to student-led efforts to sort garbage in Japan, to community education in Guatemala, these examples exemplify the power that youth have in driving climate action. Panelists also challenged policymakers to transform the education within formal school systems. Mr. Katsutoshi Hori, representative of Climate Youth Japan and Keio University, asked “teachers to believe in the importance of ESD and be equipped with the knowledge to teach it”. Ms. Sukma Riveriningtyas, representative from UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program network, added that “we need to increase our awareness beyond what is seen, such as rising sea levels. We need to education people on what happens before and after the floods”.

In response, Ms. Satu Santala, Director-General for Development Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, affirmed the youths’ call for formal school systems and teachers to play a larger role in promoting ESD. She also emphasized that climate change education “goes beyond knowledge and cognitive skills to encompass motivation, participation and socio-emotional skills.”    

The event presented an opportunity for youth to engage actively on education-based responses to the climate crisis. It also underlined the holistic and integrated approach needed for climate action; an approach where both cognitive and socio-emotional skills are taught, and where stakeholders across various disciplines come together to co-create solutions. In closing, ADG/ED Ms. Giannini called for “a sense of urgency to address this immediately and to convince governments to work better with each other, and within themselves”.  

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