Education is a fundamental tool for advancing action on climate change, yet it has not been adequately tapped for its potential.
Research shows that if only 16% of high school students in high-and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a substantial – nearly 19 gigaton -- reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050.
Increased education about climate could also generate other benefits. Countries taking strong climate actions between 2018 and 2030 could, by 2030, generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs, and deliver at least $26 trillion in net global economic benefits, according to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.
Nearly $23 trillion in climate-smart investment opportunity exists in emerging markets from 2016 to 2030, arising from national climate change commitments, the International Finance Corporation estimates.
Education is key to train the professionals needed to obtain these benefits. Here are four ways that education can be used to address climate change:
First, ensure mutually reinforcing policies for education and climate change. In a global survey by UNESCO in 2020, nearly two thirds of respondents named climate change and biodiversity loss as the number one challenge, and education as key to addressing them. It also reported that over half of education policies and curricula studied made no mention of climate change in primary and secondary education.
Education for climate change needs to be embedded in all levels of education and in formal institutions, communities and workplaces. Education systems have to become more resilient to climate-related disasters to avoid disruption during extreme weather events.
Schools can play a critical role in increasing awareness of local communities on climate and disaster risk issues and promote local actions to build resilience. It is crucial to identify education as a key climate solution in national climate change policies such as nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans.
Such integration provides a strong basis for countries to mobilize climate finance to advance climate actions in the context of education sector.
Schools can play a critical role in increasing awareness of local communities on climate and disaster risk issues and promote local actions to build resilience.
Second, build green skills in the workforce. Training and skills development are crucial for a just and green transition and building a resilient economy, especially now with post COVID-19 economic packages promoting green recovery.
There is a need for new courses to strengthen capacities and skills. Tertiary education and research play a key role in building higher order human capital for resilience and climate action. The European Green Deal and the Republic of Korea’s Green Deal are examples that require extensive talent pools.
It is crucial to invest in skills to meet emission regulations, adopt renewable and clean energy, manage waste, and produce green and resilient products and services.
Third, expand investments at the intersection of sustainability and digitalization. The digital transformation currently underway is far reaching. The market size of the global digitized construction industry or construction 4.0, using artificial intelligence and other technologies, is projected to increase from $10 billion in 2017 to $29 billion by 2027. Whether it is smart grids, smart transportation, smart cities, digital agricultural advisory services or gig economy work, wide ranging digital skills are called for.
Fourth, strengthen inter-disciplinary climate studies. There is need for interdisciplinary education. The prestigious Columbia University and Stanford University each established a climate school in 2020 and 2021. For Columbia, it was the first new school in 25 years and for Stanford its first new school in 70 years, underscoring the importance of education in tackling the climate crisis.
Programs offered aim to educate future climate leaders, and generate knowledge solutions. Climate studies in developing countries need to jointly house different schools such as engineering, architecture, agriculture, arts, social sciences, management, law, public policy, and communications to build up the diverse talent pool needed for climate solutions. Problem based and contextual approaches are required.
These four paths will enable shifting behavior patterns towards sustainability and establishing more direct links between climate study programs and their positive impacts on climate adaptation and mitigation. Education needs to mesh with many other actors to realize climate goals, but it must be made a priority.