5 key takeaways from COP27 for the education movement

With clear and multidirectional links between education and climate protection, the potential for education to ensure sustainability and mitigate the impacts of climate change is undeniable. Here are 5 key takeaways for the education community from COP27.

As the sun sets on Sharm El Sheikh’s first African UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change, the world holds its breath to see if the “Implementation COP” will lead to concrete action towards the target of keeping warming to below 1.5 degrees.

While many are skeptical about the prospects for progress with 165 countries still yet to present new Nationally Determined Contributions pledges to achieve that goal despite commitments last year in Glasgow and negotiations still faltering on the last day, there is still room for hope.

What impressed me at this year’s COP27 conference was the immense bottom-up movement for change which continues both to pressure governments to do the right thing, but also to take matters into their own hands – from emission reductions to eco-system restoration to youth mobilization.

Also promising is the potential for education to take a much more prominent role in the agenda moving forward. Here are 5 key takeaways for the education community from this year’s COP:

1. Education is gaining prominence beyond the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) agenda

Although education has been mentioned in COP’s formal negotiations at least 32 times beginning in 1998, its framing has largely centered on the ACE Agenda: The overarching goal of ACE is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action, through the six ACE elements – climate change education and public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues.

While this has ensured continuous attention to the critical need for a mindset and behavior shift to help drive wider climate change mitigation and adaptation goals, the wider role of education as driving systemic solutions to the climate and environment crises at the frontlines has yet to be realized.

Nevertheless, this year featured the first-ever Climate Literacy Hub with daily events on education in addition to a plethora of education-focused events across the formal and informal agendas of the conference.

The inaugural meeting of UNESCO’s Greening Education Partnership on November 10 also signals a growing momentum in the education community to look more comprehensively at what is needed to accelerate the education solution to the climate emergency.

2. There is already a large and growing momentum behind climate education innovations

Although the conference itself was overwhelming in the number of panels, booths, events, and speeches, what was clear is that there is an enormous amount of innovation and local action taking place around the world.

I was honored to participate in a panel with Earthday’s education team and hear about what they are able to achieve in UgandaZimbabweIndia, and Tanzania through grassroots action in schools, universities, and communities.

I shared a panel with Chief Operations Officer Brenda Mwale where she spoke about the work of the Green Girls Platform in Malawi, which strengthens the role of young girls and women to manage the impacts of climate change and engage in local-level adaptation and mitigation actions.

The Office for Climate Education, established just 5 years ago, is gaining traction for its support to integrate climate education into curricula, drawing on the science of IPCC reports tailoring country-specific education approaches. Some noted how fragmented these diverse efforts are though, without a sense of where to find resources, and materials, share good practices and connect to one another and to the national decision-makers who can take these efforts to scale.

The launch of the Coalition for Climate Education may prove a decisive step in the right direction as youth take on this agenda – already bringing together over 100 organizations and activists fighting for climate education. So regardless of the status of inter-governmental negotiations, action around the world is being advanced every day and the climate education movement is growing stronger.

3. Governments see the value of education and cross-sectoral collaboration but costs of adaptation are high

In my discussions with government officials from Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria, I was struck by the unequivocal acknowledgment of education as a critical element of climate strategies.

Even if some countries still invest more in fossil fuel subsidies than in education, in others there is already a powerful recognition of the lynchpin role of education in Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans as well as in national climate education policy and legislation.

Education is not only seen as a key driver of the transition to greener economies but also a sector important for community resilience, even as education is vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change.

With a school touching nearly every community in every region of every country around the world, the recognition of the untapped power of education to drive action and resilience around the world is gaining traction.

On the other hand, in lower-income countries, the compounding pressures of economic contraction, rising food and fuel costs, and sky-rocketing debt is putting the reins on the pace and scale of action needed to untap it. UNEP estimates that annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at US$70 billion, rising to as much as US$300 billion in 2030.

4. There is enormous potential for cross-sectoral investment between education and climate funds

In all of the discussions with country partners, the urgent need for financing came through clearly – both for adaptation to be able to better withstand environmental shocks, but also for the unavoidable loss and damage that they are experiencing.

This year’s COP saw some progress on financing for the hardest hit countries including commitments for loss and damage and for a new Global Shield against Climate Risks, but these still fall far below the estimated billions needed.

Overall, climate funds have allocated a small fraction of available resources to lower-income countries, even less for adaptation, for children, or for education – in fact only 0.03% of all climate finance (estimated at US$540 billion in 2018) is estimated to be invested in education. That may change, however.

At a side event hosted by Save the Children, the Green Climate Fund’s Jerry Velasquez challenged the education community: “The question really is: How come, if there is a Comprehensive School Safety Framework, and you’re piloting it in a few countries, how come that is not being proposed to us?… I would love to have a project that actually takes the Comprehensive School Safety Framework and takes it into the next level, into actual implementation at scale.”

GPE welcomes that call to action and the potential for co-financing between the global education and climate funds.

5. COP28 holds immense promise for education in the climate agenda

The United Arab Emirates will host next year’s COP at Dubai Expo City. CEO and Vice-Chairman of Dubai Cares Dr. Al Gurg announced that there will be a day dedicated to education during COP next year, building on the 2021 RewirEd agenda, which “aims to be a catalyst in redefining education to ensure a future that is prosperous, sustainable, innovative and accessible to all.”

To capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity, the key challenge for the global education community will be how to ensure that the next 12 months lead to concrete action to embed a strong and clear climate-smart education system transformation agenda in the formal climate negotiation processes – and elevate the political will to invest in the most important human solution to our planetary crisis.

This article was published by Sarah Beardmore, on Global Partnership for Education

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