Youth and Education: A call on governments to act against Climate Change

Education is the most sustainable, long-term driver of social, economic and environmental justice and for fostering transformation towards fairer and resilient societies. The international community agrees to underpin Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education as the crucial stepping stone to the realisation of all GOALs.  The recent climate actions coordinated by youth across Europe set the stage for education and highlight the importance of education curriculum to speak directly to the issues of today.


Understanding climate change

According to the UNFCCC climate change is “change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” For the first time in recent history, we are witnessing unprecedented change with the world’s climate system which leads to extreme weather patterns such as floods and droughts.  Climate disasters disrupt livelihoods, economies as well as food production. Data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate that since the start of the twenty-first century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) between 2030 and 2052 global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C – and more – if it continues to increase at the current rate.  

The impacts of climate change witnessed across the world today affect everyone, irrespective of race, gender or creed and more so for vulnerable and marginalised groups in developing countries. At the highest level, climate change is acknowledged as the greatest threat of our time.  Humanity is at a crossroad, faced by a defining issue, and if drastic actions are not taken today, tomorrow will be a bleak future more so for the youth.

In just a few years, even half a degree change will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, destroying oceans, forests and eradicating species. It is expected that these will lead to the displacements of millions of people, and increase the probability of conflicts – putting their lives and right to education at risk.

Why are youth in Europe protesting

Students across Europe are staging protest and walkouts calling out governments’ inaction on climate change.  Youth recognise that climate change is an urgent challenge for young people and must be addressed now.

Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s speech in Davos, a 16-year-old student and climate activist, this movement has gained momentum and since spread to Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium and other European countries. Under the banner “School Strikes 4 Climate” students protests are  scheduled for 15th February, 15th March and a wider action on 15th April organised by Extinction Rebellion. Young people are increasingly concerned about climate change, and rightly so.  Youth are demanding governments, policymakers to commit and take real action and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Youth are holding the “older generation” to account for the climate chaos of today.

Students from the European Students’ Union joined the youth climate protests in released this statement supporting the Students strike for Action on Climate Change and urging European decision-makers of today to build a more sustainable society for tomorrow.

This incredible movement, powered by students and young people is rapidly spreading with school strikes planned across Europe every Friday. The #ClimateStrike calls on governments to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius and protect the future of our planet.


The role of education

According to UNESCO, education is a crucial and and an indispensable tool in the fight against climate change.  Education “helps young people understand and address the impact of global warming, encourages changes in their attitudes and behaviour and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends.”

Furthermore, SDG 4 target 7 is that “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality,  promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship”  In 2018, the Education Academia Stakeholder Group highlighted in its position paper the importance of education for the realisation of all Goals reviewed by the High-level Political Forum  Therefore, it is imperative that  education is engaged as a key mechanism to promote global citizenship and equip individuals with the skills and knowledge to avert further climate changes and power green sustainable societies worldwide.   Through formal and informal education on climate change, reliance on indigenous knowledge, youth and communities are empowered to make lifestyle changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the changing local conditions.  

Now more than ever, education activists can rise up and support youth and students to take control of their future, and claim their rights through education. Education empowers youth to understand, embrace and claim their human rights, and become active citizens. This pivotal moments requires adapted curriculum to meet the demands of today and elevate the climate and ecological crises.

From Belgium, Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland youth demand industries and governments to take immediate tangible action on climate change.  GCE salutes the thousands of youth taking a stand, challenging global leaders and disrupting the status quo.

To support the movement, follow the activists and join coordinated actions on the streets or on social media by sharing messages that call on governments to act decisively on climate change. Find additional resources here. 

Other hashtags to follow are  #FridaysForFuture, #YouthStrike4Climate, #Youth4Climate. 


Author: Lerato Letebele Balendran – GCE Communications Officer

Contributors: European Students’ Union

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