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The issue

Climate change is the defining crisis of our generation, and it will be the lived reality for generations to come. Yet, many people still do not understand the issue or feel able to respond to it adequately, including the very young people who will be most affected.

Through their Mock COP Declaration, young people across the globe demand that all school-age children be provided with comprehensive and up-to-date teaching regarding the climate emergency and ecological crisis.

The Climate Assembly UK has said climate education for all should form the cornerstone of any action plan. Nine out of 10 teachers agree climate change education should be compulsory in schools, yet seven out of 10 feel ill-equipped to teach it.

It is clear that young people, teachers, and experts from across a breadth of subjects are calling for change.

Our response

The University of Reading is one of the world's leading centres for the study of climate, as well as having a long history in teacher training: passing our knowledge to those who need it most is the cornerstone of our mission.

Working with the Office for Climate Education, Royal Meteorological Society, Met Office, EAUC and Ashden, we held an online Climate Education Summit on 15 September 2021. It successfully brought together young people, scientists, teachers and educationalists, policymakers and campaigners to create a nationwide action plan for better climate education in schools and colleges. This is to ensure that all young people today, and in generations to come, are empowered with the knowledge, skills and understanding to tackle the climate and ecological crises facing our planet.

The Climate Education Summit

The Summit included keynote plenary sessions open to all – from teachers and their students to the general public  and closed roundtable discussions with invited guests, with the aim of identifying and outlining how a step change in climate and sustainability education can be made so that young people have the skills and knowledge needed for the twenty-first century.

The focus was on improving climate education for young people aged eight to 18, and the scope included both policy-related matters and in-school activities, not necessarily requiring curriculum change.

Getting everyone involved

We believe that a collaborative approach is essential to identify and expediate action and genuinely improve climate education. 

For several months in advance of the Summit, we engaged in many conversations with both our existing networks and new contacts. The extent of shared desire and motivation to work together and bring about positive change, and quickly, was striking. We also invited everyone – including young people, teachers and the general public – to make their voices heard, asking them to speak up and tell us what they want and need from climate education. 

A number of recurring themes emerged from this engagement in advance of the Summit, including: 

  • currently, young people in the UK face a ‘lottery’ with regards to climate education
  • there is a need for essential skills and knowledge, to prepare for the challenges of a changing climate, to be taught across a breadth of subjects
  • appropriate training and support for all staff within schools and colleges, including teachers, leaders and governors, is needed.

Drawing on this insight, we drafted an Action Plan that provided a framework for the discussions during the Summit. Following the event, the Action Plan was revised in light of discussions. The National Climate Education Action Plan that has emerged has been informed by diverse voices.