Climate change education should become fully embedded in curriculum, unions say

Credit: PA

Ahead of crucial Cop26 talks in Glasgow, four unions – representing school, college and university staff – have warned that young people have the most to lose from the lack of direction on climate change.

A joint letter to new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi calls for a review of the curriculum to ensure everyone is mobilised for a “sustainable future”.

The unions are calling for important measures to be embedded in the education system as they say there is concern the government has yet to grasp the gravity of the situation.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Ministers should introduce a comprehensive plan to “decarbonise the entire school estate by 2030” as part of an overdue refurbishment and repair programme, they say.

The letter also calls for a “comprehensive review of the entire curriculum” and a “detailed policy” on green travel for students, staff, and parents.

The Cop26 climate conference will be held in Glasgow this year as pressure mounts on host UK government to take action on climate change. Credit: PA

It warns these measures should be announced before or during the UN climate summit or otherwise any other initiative will “be seen as window dressing for a lack of strategic urgency”.

Leaders of the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teaching union, the University and College Union (UCU) and Unison have all signed the letter.

The letter also suggests that teacher training standards could be amended to include learning about the climate emergency and a new professional qualification for teachers on climate could be created to address concerns.

It adds the Education Act could be amended to impose a new duty on schools to ensure they designate a member of staff as a climate co-ordinator.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The UK government needs to step up to ensure teachers have the resources and tools to provide access to curriculum entitlements that give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their understanding of environmental issues and to be responsible citizens.

“We also need to see much more action from the government to deliver substantial improvements to the energy efficiency of existing school buildings which have suffered from significant under-investment over decades”.

Cambridge schoolchildren take part in a ‘die-in’ climate change protest Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “It is the next generation that will bear the brunt of any inaction on climate change. We all need to play a part in ensuring a sustainable future for our young people.

“Schools and colleges can play their part and the UK government needs to ensure that quality climate change education is embedded across the curriculum, as well as focusing on decarbonising the education estate by 2031”.

A government spokesperson said: “Climate change is embedded in multiple subjects in the national curriculum throughout primary and secondary school, and we launched a new Environmental Science A-level to give students the opportunity to study the subject further.

“We are also investing millions in long-term projects to build greener and more energy-efficient schools, and in initiatives to encourage more people to walk and cycle to school”.