Monday was the Education Day at the UN Climate Conference in Marrakech. In the halls of the COP, we tried to establish the essential role of education in the fight against climate change.
The Moroccan Princess Lalla Hasnaa, attended the conference as chairman of the Foundation for Environmental Protection Mohammed VI. The Foundation, in fact, work in close contact with the Ministry of Education of Morocco to spread and develop greater awareness in new generations about climate and environmental issues. One of the most important programs is, for example, the “Climate Plan” of Morocco, with the support of UNESCO, FAO and other international organizations. Within this program, a key part is dedicated to education and training.
The Minister of Education of Morocco Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdallah also attended the COP. In his speech, he highlighted the important role of education, but he found himself in trouble when he was asked about the situation of teachers in Morocco. In November the 13th indeed, on the occasion of the March for Climate, many trainee teachers were the streets in protest against certain government decrees that reduce public assumptions favouring the private sector. “If teachers are protesting means that this is a free country,” he simply answered.
“Education empowers people!,” Said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, bringing the positive example of countries such as Uganda, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic who have taken strategic measures for environmental education in their national programs. 73% of the curricula of 78 countries refer to “sustainable development”, 55% mention the word “ecology” and 47% “environmental education”.
Beyond words and good intentions there’s the reality: how to promote environmental education? How to teach respect for the environment, how to evaluate educational approaches and how to intervene to improve them? The Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, commissioned by UNESCO to monitor the quality of education for sustainable development and “green growth” does not paint a positive picture of the global situation.
By 2030 70% of young people born in underdeveloped countries should have completed secondary education, but – warns the report – we are dramatically away from the target. To date only 14% of them succeeds.
The importance of education is highlighted also by the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement. The Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations during the opening of the 70th session (September 2015), promotes indeed “education that is inclusive and equitable”. Section 4.7 aims at explicitly stimulate education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles. Only three months later, the Parties signed the Paris Agreement, which, in Article 12, states: Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement”.
Education is the main protagonist in a time when the decision of governments seems to be left to the people and their lifestyle. As Andrew Jones, member of the Climate Interactive – an organization that aims to create scientific and rigorous tools to raise awareness on climate change – once said: “we do not need ten thousand experts, but a billion amateurs.”
In addition, the organization promotes simulations of the climate negotiations, to help students from all over the world to understand what should be done to accomplish all the objectives of the Agreement of Paris and how difficult it is to balance the interests of developed countries with those of countries that are having a rapid development and, finally, those that are growing more slowly. These simulations often adopt unusual strategies to make the public think: as Jones points out, in fact, “we need strong experiences that touch our hearts.” It is not unusual then that a simulation has been improvised in the course of a side event of COP22.
Another excellent example of bottom- up practical action is Climate CoLab, the online crowd-sourcing platform created by MIT, which collects solutions to problems on a local, national and global scale proposed by both experts and ordinary people.
The day the United Nations announced that in 2016 temperature reached an all-time high, the importance of education as a means to fight climate change can actually be seen in a whole new light. Suddenly education seems essential, something without which an environmental revolution can not even be thought of.