5 ways education can help fight climate change and protect life on land and below water: Exploring the interlinkages between SDG 4, 13, 14 and 15

On Friday 20th September, millions of people around the World took the street to ask leaders to take strong and bold action to address the climate emergency. On September 23rd, world leaders will meet in New York for the Climate Summit, a dedicated day to discuss the climate issue on the eve of the first SDG Summit. As the climate emergency takes the central stage during these high-level discussions, let’s unpack target 4.7 and explore how education and SDG4 can help save our planet and our climate, and particularly relate to SDGs 13, 14 and 15.

What role can education play in protecting our planet?

The relationship between education, the climate crisis and preserving life on land and below water happens at various levels. While education is needed to enhance people’s awareness of the damaging impacts of human actions against natural ecosystems, at the same time ecosystem unbalance and climate change-related emergencies are one of the critical barriers for people to enjoy their right to education. Indeed, climate change-related emergencies leave millions of learners out of school. Disasters like landslides, wildfires, droughts, floods, cyclones or typhoons cause famines, death, force people to move or destroy school facilities and universities, and communities might take years to recover from search events.

Target 4.7 specifically mentions the role of education in promoting sustainability ” 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 and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

1. Creating knowledge

Education plays a vital role in combating climate change and is key to understanding how the human-made climate crisis is affecting the planet. Our knowledge of the climate crisis is based on solid science, research, data that scientists across the world rigorously dissect and analyse. They are the basis of the policy recommendations made in the IPCC report. Researchers, academics and higher education develop the research to understand the causes, consequences and magnitude of the climate crisis and global warming related emergencies. Scientists have unveiled both the important role oceans or forests play in regulating the climate, along with revealing the immediate impacts the climate crisis is having on these fragile ecosystems.

2. Understanding ecosystems to build more resilient societies

Studying our ecosystems, their systemic nature and their connections to human and non-human life are important to care, preserve, restore and reverse damages human development is causing on Earth. Education, or ecological literacy, is pivotal to our understanding of how the actions of all individuals are negatively impacting the balance on Earth, in particular, the natural forests, the cycle of water and the preservation of wildlife. Constant transformative learning to truly understand the fundamentals of natural life is needed as diversity increases resilience. Local and indigenous knowledge have contributed to ecosystem functioning, disaster early warning systems, and climate change adaptation and resilience. Traditional knowledge in such areas as agriculture, food production and conservation has played an important role in environmental sustainability for centuries. Numerous examples of indigenous communities’ traditional land management practices, particularly those led by women, are becoming recognized globally as excellent approaches for conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem processes.

3. Raising awareness

Today’s children are the citizens and consumers of tomorrow. Their behaviours and decisions will inevitably affect the environment. Children are also important agents of social change in society, because apart from adopting responsible environmental behaviours themselves, they also have the potential to bring about change by influencing the environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of peers, family and of the wider community.Educating youth and adults on issues related to the climate crisispollution of water and land will encourage individuals and communities to change attitudes and behaviour towards it. Initiatives to prevent and mitigate the impact of climate change through education may allow children, young people and adults to get a better understanding of the impact of global warming on their possibilities to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

4. Finding solutions

Even if strong commitments for action are taken this week and the rise of global temperature is kept below 1,5 C, this rise will have serious impact worldwide. As the climate crisis is unfolding, education, skills and innovative ideas based on sound science are needed to find solutions and mitigate damages. As UNESCO (2016) suggests, education can advance our knowledge and skills to prevent and to adapt to climate change-related emergencies.

Engineers, activists and youth make constant progress in improving devices to produce cleaner energy, devise ingenious process to clean oceans of plastic pollution and design practical mechanisms to allow wildlife and human to live peacefully together. At the same time, universities are at the forefront of research to develop more recyclable materials, improve efficiency of man-made tools and increase the reuse of precious resources. Education can amplify these initiatives and reverse the toxic trends towards more extractivism and non-sustainable consumption models.

5. Holding leaders accountable

Finally, educated citizens and youth are more equipped to hold their leaders accountable and to put pressure on their governments to take decisive actions against the climate crisis. This was demonstrated by the millions of people who walked out of their schools and workplaces on Friday 20th to demand urgent action on climate change and the end of fossil fuels.

Authors: Maryline Mangenot, Vernor Muñoz, Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.