Climate change education in the spotlight: leading thinkers launch UNICEF resource manual

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By Taleen Vartan

NEW YORK, United States of America, 20 September 2013 – Education drives transformation towards more sustainable societies. Globally, traditional learning environments are shifting due to dynamic changes such as climate change, global migration, digital and technological innovations, natural disasters, conflict and growing inequalities. New learning outcomes must be predicated on issues relevant to the 21st century, promoting environmental stewardship, sustainable development, resilience and innovation, locally and around the world.

©UNICEF/2013/Bento de Faria

Integrating climate change education

From 16 to 17 September 2013, UNICEF organized the Annual Meeting of the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD, 2005-2014) at UNICEF headquarters in New York. The two-day meeting focused on climate change education and provided an opportunity for IAC members to discuss strategies on Education for Sustainable Development activities after 2014 as well as in the post-2015 agenda, promote inter-agency collaboration and review other issues relevant to the current and future work of the IAC.

A panel discussion on 16 September marked the official launch of the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction in the Education Sector Resource Manual. UNICEF developed this resource manual to assist governments and education practitioners in scaling up and mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the education sector. Adopting these practices protects children from environment-related risks now and in the future.

Children as agents of change

Providing children with relevant education on disasters and climate change in a child-friendly school environment can reduce their vulnerability to risk while contributing to sustainable development for their communities. Active, inclusive and participatory learning and teaching processes empower teachers and students to plan their own climate change education.

Mr. Charles Hopkins, Professor at York University, opened the discussion by highlighting the need to “address those people that are often voiceless, that is, youth… to build a sustainable future for all.”

Mr. Alex Heikens, Senior Adviser on Climate and Environment at UNICEF, added, “We need to step up and work on the issue of children, climate change and environmental sustainability. Children need to be proactively involved in the discourse on climate change.”

Correspondingly, Module 5 of the resource manual outlines the need for involving children and young people in the design and planning of these systems. Including young people as stakeholders in policy advocacy and planning for climate change adaptation and DRR in the education sector provides opportunities for boys and girls to learn holistic citizenship and advocacy skills.

Becoming a responsible global citizen

©UNICEF/2013/Bento de Faria.

Climate change education is pivotal for children and youth “to participate in decision-making and generally become responsible, global citizens,” according to Mr. Alexander Leicht, Chief of Education for Sustainable Development at UNESCO.

Moreover, the adoption of sustainability practices in schools can help bridge generational gaps. Ms. Adriana Telles Ribeiro, Representative of the Brazil Mission, noted the importance of children teaching their parents and elders about issues related to climate change adaptation and mitigation, DRR and sustainable development. This creates a trickledown effect where relevant knowledge, skills and resources can permeate communities, helping to build resilience as well as foster global citizenship.

As the international community debates what the post-2015 development agenda will look like, the far-reaching implications of climate change cannot be ignored. Sustainability is inextricably linked to the future and overall well-being of all young people. Ultimately, climate change education – which encompasses environmental, political, social and economic factors – equips them with the appropriate tools to make informed decisions on complex global issues. Through these informed choices, they can behave as responsible citizens in an increasingly interdependent world.


Moderated by Charles Hopkins, Professor at York University, the panel included Alex Heikens, Senior Adviser for Climate and the Environment at UNICEF; Alexander Leicht, Chief of Education for Sustainable Development at UNESCO; Subhashni Raj, Youth Representative from the Small Island Developing States; Oliver Bell, Chief Technology Officer, Development and Humanitarian Organizations, Microsoft Corp.; Adriana Telles Ribeiro, Representative of the Brazil Mission; and Leah Cohen, Deputy Director for Federal Policy, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability in New York City.

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