A pending task: 5 reasons why we need environmental education

Take advantage of and strengthen the potential of children, adolescents and young people to face the challenges related to climate change

By Pamela Ogando
Banner Plant trees, plant hope.
UNICEF/UN0364406/Aliaga Ticona
18 July 2022

Climate crisis, environmental degradation and biodiversity are existential threats to children's ability to survive and thrive, and negatively affect access to water, sanitation and hygiene services. 

Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the world regions most affected by climate change and external meteorological phenomena, causing serious damage to health, life, food, water, energy and socioeconomic development in the region[1]:

  • 55 million children are exposed to water scarcity;  
  • 60 million children are exposed to cyclones; 
  • 45 million children are exposed to heat waves; 
  • 105 million children are exposed to air pollution.
Young girl recycling plastic bottles.

Education plays a key role in climate action. However, what we have learned does not prepare us for the challenge we face as a society. It is imperative, then, to incorporate environmental education in schools.

But why do we need environmental education, here are five things you need to know:

  1. Environmental education is more than just information about the environment. Environmental education[2]: increases awareness and knowledge about environmental issues; teaches individuals to think critically; improves problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  2. Access to environmental education for children will help them prepare to face the effects of climate change comprehensively from a responsible citizen's point of view, defending and being consistent with these values in all areas.[3]
  3. Environmental education bestows students with appropriate skills, knowledge, behaviours and attitudes to cope with a rapidly changing world and climate and promotes both personal and systemic transformation towards more sustainable lifestyles. 
  4. Through education, children can contribute to all aspects of climate change policymaking, mitigation, and adaptation.[4]  
  5. Schools are spaces to create and implement environmental solutions that generate more sustainable lifestyles and strengthen resilience to climate change. 
Adolescents cleaning the beach.

The potential of children and youth as agents of change must be seized and strengthened from the school level, placing education at the center of their empowerment to participate and lead processes, programs and policy initiatives that address the main challenges related to climate change, including ecosystem restoration and conservation processes, new patterns of production and consumption, as well as adaptation to sustainable lifestyles.  

Children are powerful agents for change. When access to essential services such as water and sanitation, health and education is improved, their ability to survive climate hazards can be greatly enhanced.

We need environmental education, it's a #PendingTask.

[1] https://www.unicef.org/reports/climate-crisis-child-rights-crisis
[2] https://www.epa.gov/climate-change/climate-change-resources-educators-and-students 
[3] https://www.unesco.org/en/education/sustainable-development/climate-change 
[4] Climate change education for sustainable development: the UNESCO climate change initiative