The Importance of Climate and Environmental Education

The Importance of Climate and Environmental Education

Education may be one of the most underlooked tools for combating climate change and could be an important tool to meet future emissions goals.

March 24, 2023

4 min read; 563 words

Tags: Energy Policy

Author: Lillian Miller

Improving education is one of the most important aspects of continuing development around the world, particularly when considering the need to address growing climate and environmental issues. At COP26, leaders made a commitment to prioritize climate and environmental education to encourage more “climate-positive” societies. However, almost 50 countries do not mention climate change in their education goals or policies, and none of the countries in the Paris Agreement included climate education as one of their strategies to meet proposed climate goals. An increased focus on climate education across the world has the potential not only to reduce emissions but also to decrease the polarization and anxiety around climate change and modern environmental policies.

In the longer term, climate education could possibly be one of the best individual solutions to combat climate change. In 2020, a study found that if around 16% of middle and high school students were to study climate change in school, it could save nearly 19 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. Additionally, in 2020, Global Education Monitoring (GEM) found that financially supporting education in low and middle-income countries could help reduce emissions by 51.48 gigatons by 2050.

A research study out of North Carolina State University found that educating children about climate change could help spread climate awareness among parents. Through a process called child-to-parent intergenerational learning, many behaviors and attitudes of children may transfer to their parents. Today, only 54% of adults globally believe in anthropogenic climate change. Increasing climate education in schools throughout the world not only would have a long-term effect on the climate consciousness of children in school today, but it could also have a more immediate effect by increasing the climate-aware actions of their parents.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of opposition to climate education in schools, particularly in US states that benefit disproportionately from the production of fossil fuels. In the United States, the Next Generation Science Standards are a set of goals and approaches to science education in K-12 schools that address environmental issues, among a variety of other science topics. In Wyoming, despite these educational standards being widely supported by boards of educators (including those who consider themselves conservative-leaning), a 2014 meeting of lawmakers passed a footnote that prohibited any public spending on them. Ron Micheli, the chairman of the State Board of Education at the time, believed that they were prejudiced against fossil fuel development and did not consider the “cost-benefit analysis” of efforts to stop global warming.

There are many methods for increasing global climate education. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change gives responsibility to individual countries for increasing climate education. Likewise, UNESCO has many programs aimed at climate education throughout the world, including the Global Action Programme (GAP), Action for Climate Empowerment, and the ZOOM campaign, which were all presented at COP22.

UNESCO also supports climate education and initiatives through informal means including media, networking, and other partnerships. While public media can be a very influential, informal method of climate education can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and polarization. Media climate education through celebrities and famous activists such as Leonardo DiCaprio or Greta Thunberg can isolate groups, and may not be accessible to people around the world.

In total, climate education could be one of the most important, yet underutilized tools we have to mitigate climate change and could have both immediate and long-lasting effects.

Lillian Miller is a sophomore studying Chemistry and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania.