Education is the kiss of life for climate action

Salwa Thabet Mekky
Tuesday 1 Nov 2022

As the countdown begins to the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt’s “city of peace,” Sharm El-Sheikh, participants are preparing to discuss the important role of education in addressing the impacts of climate change.


There are mass aspirations that the conference will be at the cutting edge of combatting climate change and a turning point towards a green world.

Expectations for global participants are extremely high. It is hoped that they will fill a common consensus among different countries and cultures regardless of development priorities and other situational constraints.

Participants are expected to coordinate efforts and cooperatively set guidelines for international and national policies driven by global trends and national interest alike.

A participatory approach will be the best strategy to draw a global roadmap for mitigation and adaptation to the severe multidimensional implications of climate change that pose a menacing threat to sustainable development goals (SDGs).

One the most imperative tracks, if not the most important, is education. The conference will discuss the role of education in building resilient societies in face of climate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Climate change threatens all aspects of human life, as the globe is increasingly thrown into environmental disequilibrium. Over the last decade, natural disasters such as floods, forest fires and hurricanes have caused enormous human and economic damage. These trends are only expected to worsen, with internal displacement caused by such disasters speculated to rise by six times by 2050.

It is unfortunate that poor countries are the most vulnerable. UN studies assert that climate variability will expose nearly 118 million people living below the extreme poverty line in Africa to risks of drought, floods and extreme heat by 2030. Absent mitigation and adaptation, development and poverty reduction efforts will struggle. GDP growth in disadvantaged countries could decline to three percent by 2050.

Such a threat has created a common cause that brings forces together to protect future generations from irreversible negative economic, social, environmental and human impacts. At COP21 in 2015, the Paris Agreement’s central aim was to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change and build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures;

Last year, Glasgow’s COP26 recognised the significance of multilateralism and prioritised international collaboration in combatting climate change in the context of sustainable development.

Now, COP27 is between the hammer of the rising stakes of climate change and the anvil of resource scarcity. This remains an unsolved dilemma, especially for emerging economies, for whom support from developed countries will be decisive.

It is expected that COP27 will come up with capacity building policies as well as technical and financial support to develop more resilient societies that are able to mitigate negative impacts and adapt to climate change.

A key driver is the quality of education, which is reflected in SDG 4 that aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education.” It is ironic that while the majority of developing countries are still striving to eradicate illiteracy, developed countries are seeking to eradicate climate illiteracy. This calls for intensifying civic education efforts towards reducing and mitigating the repercussions of climate change.

In addition, knowledge is at the forefront of finding innovative solutions to climatic impacts on development. Developing a knowledge-based society requires building resilient education systems on both macro and micro levels, which will require structural reforms in basic, higher and vocational education.

On the macro level, a legal framework is required for financing national education and research programmes to develop upgraded infrastructure and capacity building.

While on the micro level, key actors including schools, universities and NGOs play a pivotal role in building knowledge and technological capabilities to develop innovative, smart and clean solutions for agriculture, industry, energy and other climate-related sectors.

This calls for a reengineering of educational systems to integrate interdisciplinary sciences, such as engineering, biology, technology and human sciences. Climate challenges also magnify the importance of investing in scientific research, entrepreneurship, technology incubators, and pushing for the development of self-learning tools as well as cooperative international online learning.

Luckily, these have already emerged as global educational trends, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The importance of developing educational policy in a way that contributes to supporting sustainable development and confronting climate change has become a priority for governments all over the world.

Is the goal to draw new policies to build awareness and direct behavior towards respecting environmental endowments? Or building knowledge and skills to find innovative and sustainable solutions? Or is it a mixture of this and that? The task is huge, but it is not impossible. Improving the quality of education might be the kiss of life to a green globe. 

*The writer is Professor of Public Administration - Future University in Egypt

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