Monday 22nd of May 2017

Education is key to combating climate change

Education is key to combating climate change, one of the world’s best teachers told a UN-backed forum on 15 May.

Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahromi, a Global Teacher Prize 2017 top-10 finalist, had been addressing officials and experts at the Fifth Dialogue for Climate Empowerment. The two-day international meeting in Bonn, Germany, was held as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Education needs to help us become true ecological citizens,” Marie-Christine told delegates. “We need to extend education to focus on our behaviour and our stewardship of our planet.”

The role of teachers

While many of us look to our politicians, policy-makers and scientists to find solutions for climate change, too few of us think about the teachers who are left with the enormous task of educating our children about the single greatest threat to their future. Teachers must find effective ways of telling their young students about how fragile their earth is and how our global society must start to live within its means.

“It’s difficult teaching climate change because it can just be abstract knowledge,” Marie-Christine said in her address. “Children need to play and be actively involved to get an understanding of how the world is.”

For teachers, taking climate change from scientific studies and dry policy documents to the classroom presents practical challenges. For Marie-Christine, teaching an issue like climate change can’t just be about presenting her students with abstract concepts. Instead, she has found that teaching children through sports, play and self-organized learning helps them break down and understand complicated ideas – techniques which made her a finalist for this year’s Global Teacher’s Prize.

“When presented, climate change is usually an ‘extra’, and often descends into basic scare tactics. The resulting fear is mostly debilitating and plain disempowering,” Marie-Christine said.

She has found that children learn best by experiencing belonging, participation, recognition and responsibility. Teaching climate change, then, shouldn’t be about scaring our children. It should be about empowering them. That means teaching them to understand the science behind why the climate is changing, the role each of us must play in global efforts to reverse the change and how our society will need to adapt to its effects.

Time for change

Today, our world is at a tipping point. Leading climate experts, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have repeatedly warned that we run the risk of exhausting our world’s natural resources and doing irrevocable damage to the environment. We know that human-made climate change has already driven unprecedented shifts in our atmosphere and ocean.

In the future, these experts warn that without action by States, climate change may drive ever more dramatic changes in our way of life, displacing communities, damaging our health and even impacting our sources of food and clean water.

Like Marie-Christine, the Varkey Foundation believes that an important part of the answer to climate change lies in the classroom. For that reason, in March 2017 the Foundation announced the creation of the Climate Change Education Alliance, a group of education, climate and business experts from across the world, to study how quality education programmes can help combat climate change.

Schools already have an enormous task ahead of them in teaching children about the nature of our changing world. But for teachers like Marie-Christine, that responsibility doesn’t just stop at presenting the facts. It’s also about fostering a new generation of young people who are prepared to take responsibility for their world.

“This is not just a matter of passing on and generating new kinds of knowledge; it requires a new ethic of responsibility and inculcation of the values of global citizenship,” she told the assembled delegates in Bonn.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the main multilateral forum focused on addressing climate change, with nearly universal participation. 

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