Climate Education Summit: Climate change education rethink needed to ‘avoid failing next generation’
26 July 2021
Schoolchildren are being let down by poor climate education, despite being the generation that will feel the biggest impacts of climate change, experts have warned.
In an open letter, school students, teachers, climate scientists and environmental campaigners say the UK will struggle to take action on climate unless more effort is taken to help the next generation understand climate change and its impacts.
Surveys of teachers by climate education campaign group Teach the Future showed that 9 out of 10 teachers agree that climate change should be compulsory in schools, yet only 3 out of 10 feel equipped to teach it. Through their Mock COP Declaration, young people around the world are demanding up-to-date teaching on environmental impacts being seen globally and ways to build resilience.
To help find solutions, the University of Reading will hold a Climate Education Summit on 15 September. The free-to-attend event will bring together young people, teachers, policymakers, and climate and education experts with the aim of creating a nationwide action plan to improve climate education in schools.
The Summit is being held in partnership with the Office for Climate Education, Royal Meteorological Society, Met Office, EAUC and Ashden. COP26 President Alok Sharma will also attend the event.
Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Reading, said:
“Climate education has been identified as crucial to helping everyone in society believe in and make necessary changes and face the future with confidence.
“Many groups and individuals already do good work in this area, but we must bring together experts across all areas of climate education if we are to genuinely address the issue. We hope the Summit can help deliver much-needed action and resources that make an immediate difference.”
Recent reports by Climate Assembly UK and the UK Climate Change Committee state that climate education for all will be a crucial part of plans to adapt to and mitigate its impacts.
The University is therefore working with partners to pinpoint actions that can be taken to improve climate education, to equip young people with the knowledge they need to face a challenging future with confidence. The Climate Education Summit will focus on ways to reach school pupils and children aged 8 to 18.
The Summit will include keynote plenary sessions open to all, and roundtable discussions with invited guests, with the aim of identifying how change can be made, and challenges that can be overcome together.
The intention is that the lessons learnt from the Summit reach COP26, and that any partnerships and initiatives are rolled out and replicated widely to support as many schools as possible.
The Summit organisers are keen to hear from anyone with a view on what is needed from climate education, or questions for those involved. These can be submitted at https://www.reading.ac.uk/planet/climate-education-summit
Free places at the summit can be booked from https://www.reading.ac.uk/en/planet/climate-education-summit
Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Head of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said: “Climate change will affect everyone’s lives, and be part of everyday experience for young people as they grow up. Building a country and an economy that can respond to the challenge of our changing climate requires understanding and skills across the school curriculum.
“What we’re hearing from schools and young people is that there is a widespread appetite to learn about climate change, but the space to discuss climate in both the formal and informal curriculum is often missing. The UK has long played a leading role in climate science, and as hosts of the COP26 meeting in the autumn, now is the perfect time for us to seize the initiative and follow other countries like Italy and France in making meaningful changes to climate education.
“We hope that our summit can come up with a clear action plan to do this, by starting conversations between young people, educationalists, scientists and government.”
Professor Carol Fuller, Head of the Institute of Education at the University of Reading, said: “Given that knowledge is power, education is clearly the key to global climate change. Through education, this summit will be empowering future generations to make an informed and meaningful difference to the world in which we live. The teachers we train and work with are key to this work.”
Professor Liz Bentley FRMetS, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “The Royal Meteorological Society believes that every student should leave school with the basic climate literacy that would enable them to engage with the messages put forward by the media or politicians, or to make informed decisions about their own opportunities and responsibilities. An understanding of climate change is inexorably linked to an understanding of weather and climate.”
Eric Guilyardi, President of the Office for Climate Education, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading and lead author for the IPCC, said: “It is essential that teachers around the world have access to free, quality educational resources and professional development based on the best climate and pedagogical research.”
Iain Patton, CEO of EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, said: “The opportunity to rethink and redesign every aspect of our lives in the race to zero emissions is not just exciting but critical to humanity. Young people are determined to be a part of this but are held back by the education system. Imagine that, our education system today risks squandering the opportunity to ensure that our young people have the knowledge and skills to innovate and create a secure economic and environmental future for us all.“
Harriet Lamb, CEO, Ashden (coordinator of the Let’s Go Zero coalition), said:
“Schools are perfectly positioned to be community pioneers responding to the climate crisis. Across the country, we’re seeing amazing action by schools involved in Let’s Go Zero, all on a journey to reach zero carbon by 2030: from students managing school gardens or designing low carbon classrooms with architects, to management overhauling their procurement policies, local chefs working on sustainable school meals and teachers motivating students into climate action and out of climate anxiety.
“Climate education in schools is driven by passionate teachers working on it in their own time, but this global crisis must be embedded in the curriculum to give it the necessary focus. Children must understand the issues to act on them. And teachers must be given the resources and support to teach about the climate facts and inspire their students about the solutions.”
Sanne Aldrich, Outdoor Learning Lead at West Lodge Primary School, Pinner, said: “At West Lodge Primary School we acknowledge that addressing the climate crisis and empowering and equipping children to face this challenge is essential for the survival of the human race.
“We need to take action now and we are on a journey to make teaching about sustainability as important as teaching core subjects. We address this through curriculum, making the school building carbon zero by 2030 and our school community.
“Partnership is key but also one of our challenges. We are trying to create a movement to create an impact lasting beyond school but to shift people's thinking is a process that takes time and effort.”
Honey Verburg, a Year 6 pupil at West Lodge Primary School, Pinner, said: “We are the future generation, and we need to be taught about climate change. When we are adults, we do not want our children to grow up in a polluted and dirty world where people are not safe from natural disasters.”