World Earth Day: Planning education, protecting our planet

22 April 2022


Jean Claude Ndabananiye/IIEP-UNESCO
Students leaving their school located in Greater Monrovia (Montserrado County).

Authored by IIEP Director Karen Mundy, this blog was first published by the Global Partnersihp for Education

As the heat spikes in Greater Monrovia, Liberia, students take turns leaving the classroom to find respite. “The days are getting warmer,” say high school teachers in the area, and it can be hard for students to focus.

This is becoming a common challenge in many countries across the globe, where 2020 was the second hottest year on record.

Rising sea levels present another threat, which could put some 675,000 Liberians in Greater Monrovia at risk by 2030. For education, this could be devastating, as the projected 16-centimeter rise could damage schools and cause high rates of absence among teachers and students.

The door is quickly closing to take action to avert the worst and prepare for the effects of the climate crisis. The world over, climate change casts the greatest burden on the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides and floods alone were responsible for the internal displacement of 30 million people in 2020, nearly half of whom are school age, according to the 2021 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Global Report on Internal Displacement.

Yet while climate change can have a major impact on teaching and learning, education also has the power to help combat climate change and put in place mitigation and adaptation measures—particularly if governments step forward with strong climate-sensitive sector strategies.

As we mark World Earth Day—on April 22—we must learn key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, where lack of disaster preparedness led to significant declines in both access and learning for children around the world.

The time is ripe to take ambitious climate action for education, starting with collaborative planning and better sector management.

Policies and plans must address climate change

Returning to Liberia, the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with IIEP-UNESCO, is working on the country’s next education sector plan. For the first time, this plan will integrate climate measures to build resilience and address equity concerns.

Educational planners and managers in other regions of the world are keen to adopt a crisis-sensitive planning approach and can take lessons from their peers already doing this in Burkina Faso, Guyana, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar and Viet Nam.

In these countries, the education ministries are working to anticipate the adverse effects of climate change and put in place measures to minimize the damage it can cause to education.

Our shared goal is to ensure that all education sector policies, strategies and plans address climate change. To do so we must ensure that:

  • Ministries of education have access to education and non-education data (such as climate and environmental change models and population movements) to inform planning and decision making to ensure education continuity, especially for those most affected.
  • Ministries of education and their partners have stronger individual, organizational and institutional capacity to undertake climate risk analysis, plan for preparedness and develop mitigation strategies, and for addressing needs of displaced learners and teachers.
  • Education sector plans include greater attention to school infrastructure and ensure that schools are safe and climate resilient through relocation, retrofitting, replacement and construction of climate-resistant infrastructure.
  • Sector strategies aim to transform teaching and learning so that schools can help children and youth to make informed decisions and take bold actions—to limit carbon emissions and develop and use new energy-efficient technologies.

Education sector responses to climate change require financing

Financing education for climate change means building an enabling financial environment and public procurement mechanisms for investment in climate-resilient education.

It also entails the provision of financial support to low-income and vulnerable households, including displaced communities, that are at risk of climate disasters, as well as contingency funds for climate disaster prevention and response.

Making education part of the solution

Education must be part of all climate change–related strategies—and at all policy levels, from local and national to regional and global. Education policies themselves must be based on local experiences and priorities and integrate actions to strengthen education system resilience in the face of climate change, including through collaboration with other sectors.

Through collaboration with ministries of education around the world, IIEP-UNESCO is working to enhance national capacities for comprehensive risk management so that all education actors—including communities, students, teachers, middle tier leaders, central ministries of education and other line ministries—can anticipate and prepare for climate change.

The time to act is now

Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are most effective when they are well planned and budgeted for, supported by national and local policies, coordinated across different governmental and nongovernmental entities, and financed and procured sustainably.

Educational planning that is sensitive to climate change—that takes into consideration the underlying factors that expose certain populations to disproportionate risk, and that leverages the potential for education to address and mitigate potential impacts of climate change—is the starting point for climate-ready education systems.

Supporting the capacity of ministries of education to plan and implement climate-responsive policies and strategies is more important today than ever before.