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Climate change and environmental education

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1531/Asad Zaidi
In Pakistan, 10-year-old Asma stands outside her family’s flood-damaged home in Allahdad Awan Village, Sindh Province.

On any given day, more than a billion children are enrolled in primary or secondary school. But far too many of those enrolled children do not complete their education. Instead they drop out because the quality of the education they receive is poor or because of challenges that make it difficult for them to attend and participate in school. These challenges include deepening poverty, gender imbalances, emergencies and conflict situations, HIV and AIDS and disabilities. Chronic environmental degradation and climate-related hazards are also reasons why children cannot finish their education.

Scientific findings clearly indicate that a changing climate has – and will continue to have – a significant impact on human life and natural systems. Droughts, floods, rising temperatures, and heavy precipitation can lead to problems such as increased malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria. Floods and rising sea levels can cause drowning, injuries, and severe mental and physical trauma, particularly for people who live on islands, along major river deltas and in low-lying coastal areas.

While no area is immune to the impacts of climate change, evidence suggests that developing countries, which already struggle with social, economic and environmental issues, will be worst hit by changes in rainfall patterns, greater weather extremes, and an increase in droughts and floods.

Children and women will be among those most affected by a changing climate. It is estimated that 65 per cent of those who will be affected by climate-related disasters every year in the next decade will be women and children.

Compared to adults, children are more susceptible to the negative effects of environmental degradation and more vulnerable to conditions such as poor air quality, contaminated water and extreme heat. Children who are excluded or discriminated against because of the economic or social background are often most affected. The impacts are more severe for children in countries that have weak governance and poor education systems, for girls, for children living in poverty, for children from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, and for children living with disabilities.

© UNICEF/ZAMA2010-0031/Christine Nesbitt
Members of the youth media crew conduct interviews at the second Zambian Children's Climate Change Conference at the Barn Motel in Lusaka.

Children as agents of change

While children are among the most vulnerable to climate change, they should not be considered passive or helpless victims. Children are powerful agents of change, and studies have found that many children can be extraordinarily resilient in the face of significant challenges. Providing children with empowering and 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. Educating girls and women is one of the best ways of strengthening community adaptation to climate change, as shown by recent studies.  

UNICEF works on scaling up and mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster-risk reduction plans into the education sector. This work is based on the principles of child-friendly education and aims to integrate climate change, disaster risk and environmental issues across the education system, including within policies and legislation, education sector plans and budgets, curricula and examinations, teacher education, school infrastructure and facilities, learning environments, and school governance and management.

Incorporating climate change and environmental education, including education on disaster-risk reduction, into a child-friendly education curriculum ensures the realization of children’s environmental rights as enshrined in many articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  UNICEF as 2013 Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Committee (IAC)
Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (IAC-DESD, 2005-2014)

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which serves as the Secretariat of IAC-DESD, “Education alone cannot achieve a more sustainable future; however, without education and learning for sustainable development, we will not be able to reach that goal.” UNICEF has led great efforts in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for the past eight years through the IAC-DESD. Serving as IAC Chair twice, UNICEF continues its leadership role in 2013, working to boost momentum for advocacy, coordination, strategic partnerships, knowledge management and resource mobilization for the ESD programme. The IAC brings together 22 UN Agencies committed to achieving DESD. Please click here for more information.




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