This year NGO UEC “Green Wave” at the first time has participated as an official observer at the 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Madrid, Spain.
How COP25 participants perceive climate change education for sustainable development? What kind of educational tools and methods are actually used by universities and relevant institutions presented at COP?
Oleksandra Khalaim, head of NGO, tried to raise these and other related questions on site.
Quite a lot of insights were related to climate change university education in USA. It is remarkable, how many US universities and related organizations participated in COP25, bringing big groups of students (up to 25 from each!), inspired to induce changes locally. They organized a quite big number of side-events to show their awareness and any practical steps done.
For example, a large group of U.S. student leaders presented case studies from their campuses that address SDGs at the side event “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals”. However, the focus on research is made rather on practical locally based small steps, as it is more popular in education-based initiatives of Europe. At the same time, it is worth noticing, that at the first week of COP25 European universities have not participated so actively in terms of side-events organized and participants amount.
What are hidden barriers and specific features of climate change education in USA? One of them was highlighted at a brief and occasional “coffee” talk with a university professor who guided a student group from Minnesota at COP25. He is teaching climate change science related courses, and complains about low interest among students to take these courses. The reason is that almost any climate related courses are being taught in colleges in US, he claims. The same gap between climate science and youth activism was indicated at the panel discussion “Contributions of higher education to climate action and implementation of the Paris Agreement” help by Vanderbilt University, Moravian College, University of Hawai’i (USA), National University of Singapore, and Monash University (Australia). As was indicated in the presented research (Goldman and Hyams 2019), “students in U.S. colleges and universities are generally not being exposed to climate change concepts”. An institutional shift is needed to make climate change classes obligatory in colleges.
A gap between climate science, youth activism, and governmental decision-makers on the local level was also pointed out. “Locally produced research can help decision-makers respond to local climate-related issues … but ready access to this information … remains a challenge”, the research of Goldman and Hyams (2019) indicates.
The necessity of a good-quality climate science communication was raised in a private talk with a professor from Colorado State University. “We need to communicate our science better, and bring much more interdisciplinarity both in our university education and research. In many cases my colleagues from different fields simply do not know about climate-related research of each other, as they do not speak the same language and do not sit at one table to work together”, she says.
An important point here was added by Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, in her introductory speech at one of the side-events of the first week. She proclaimed that Earth Day Network is going to bring the environmental education to all spheres of civil life, making it as a part of civic education. It should be shifted from science-based environmental education based on scientific facts to integrated civic education.
Every child born today will have to live “carbon-neutral” life in terms of GHG emissions in the nearest future. It is not a point of environmental awareness or personal choice; it is a necessity to survive. That’s why climate education should respond on this emergent request effectively, being a part of civil education, using science storytelling, providing tools and skills to act. We need innovative transformative learning methods to be introduced in our universities, as now we are not capable to teach our students, how to save the Earth and themselves in rapidly changing environmental conditions.