Investing in early childhood climate education improves resilience and sustainable development
New UNICEF report highlights the importance of climate education from early learning stages and the delay in integrating this into the school curriculum in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Panama City, Panama. 27 October 2023. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report First 1,000 days to a resilient future: Environmental and climate education for early childhood in Latin America and the Caribbean highlights that investment in policies and programmes focused on the early years of human development have a triple dividend: promoting climate resilience and adaptive capacity, protecting individual potential and fostering sustainable development.
Children, especially in their early years of life, are not only the most vulnerable to climate change, given that they are more exposed to the effects of pollution, droughts, floods and vector-borne diseases, but they also have great transformative potential for increasing resilience, climate change adaptation and sustainable development.
Timely investment in programmes aimed at children from an early age brings great benefits for the development of their potential. It is estimated that for every additional dollar invested in quality early childhood programmes, an average economic return of $13.7 is generated, and for every dollar spent on pre-primary education, $9 of benefits are obtained for the wider society, which rises to $17 in the case of the most vulnerable children.
“Environmental education from the earliest years of life could be the most effective way to bring about real change in societies. In the region, we must make pedagogical approaches that address climate education from the early stages of learning in schools a reality. Integrating this approach into education policies is the first step, but teachers must be provided with tools and curricular content to enable children to be at the centre of climate action and environmental protection,” said Garry Conille, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report identifies that 24 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region include environmental issues in their educational legislation at all levels, including early childhood; however, only three of them include specific curricular content on climate change aimed at early childhood.
Early childhood care and education programmes play a strategic role in combating climate change and protecting the environment. Likewise, educators, parents, guardians and caregivers have a crucial role in supporting learning that promotes a harmonious coexistence with nature.
In the framework of the Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW 2023) and based on the report’s findings, UNICEF urges countries in the region to:
- Put children, especially those in early childhood, at the centre of climate action and environmental protection
- Increase funding for early childhood programmes and services
- Strengthen alliances between the ministries of environment and education
- Integrate the issue of climate change into formal education curricula from early childhood
This report consists of a comprehensive review of environmental and education legislation in Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as the curricular content of formal education, with respect to the inclusion of environmental and climate change issues focused on early childhood.
The documentary research also identified documents generated by academia, including universities and think tanks.
About early childhood
Early childhood is the period from conception through eight years of age, although the importance of the first 1,000 days from conception to 24 months has been emphasized. During this stage, the brain develops in an extraordinary way: neural connections are formed at a pace that will never be repeated again in life (more than one million connections per second), and influence the cognitive, emotional, physical and social development of children. This configuration occurs in a relatively short period of time, establishing children’s ability to learn, adapt to change and develop resilience.
About the Regional Climate Week
The Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) brings together international organizations, policymakers, practitioners, businesses and civil society to exchange information, identify barriers and opportunities, and showcase climate actions and solutions to foster greater climate ambition across all sectors of society in one of the world’s most diverse regions. The 2023 edition was held in Panama City from 23–28 October.
 Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (2022). Most Vulnerable to Most Valuable: A Scoping Study to Put Young Children at the Heart of Climate Actions and Environmental Protection. Singapore.
 United Nations Children’s Fund (2023). Shape the Future of Education in
Latin America and the Caribbean: Early Childhood Education for All. Panama City.
UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/lac/en.