COP21 shines spotlight on education

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Najat Vallaud Belkacem, Florentin Moussavou, Rachid Belmokhtar, Ségolène Royal et Irina Bokova
© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo
04 December 2015

Values, competences and skills for the future: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for education for sustainable development to be recognized in the final climate agreement, calling for reinforced mobilization to transform education systems, at the thematic day on education organized at COP21 at Le Bourget on 4 December 2015.

Without education, no sustainable development: such was the leitmotiv of this day, organized by French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, in the presence of Ségolène Royal, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy; Rachid Belmokhtar, Minister of Education of Morocco (host country of COP22), and Florentin Moussavou, Minister of Education of Gabon and Vice President of the CONFEMEN.

“At the opening of COP21, 150 Heads of State rang the alarm on the state of our planet. This must be translated into political decisions, into financial investments, and calls for a deep change in mentalities, in behaviours,” said the Director-General. “This change happens through education, because education brings the skills and values that youth need to successfully manage the energy and climate revolution.” 

Noting that over the past two decades UNESCO has put in place a solid framework to reinforce education for sustainable development around the world, Ms Bokova drew attention to headway made through the United Nations Decade on this theme (2005-2014), that fostered considerable change in legislation, public policies and practice. The Global Action Programme, launched at the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Aïchi-Nagoya in November 2014, aims to set in motion a new dynamic through wider mobilization and reinforced cooperation among all concerned partners.

Minister Vallaud-Belkacem called on her counterparts from around the world to gear their education systems to the challenges of sustainable development, and more specifically to those linked to the environment and global warming. “More than a challenge, it is a necessity, an education on our global destiny,” she said. “Sustainable development is not a standalone subject, it is a relationship to the world, a deep change in the way we inscribe our actions as human beings in our environment… This must be a full-fledged public policy. It is not a fad. It is a goal and a pedagogical tool at the service of teachers. If there is one setting that is profoundly associated with change, it is the school,” she insisted.

For Minister Royal, development must be based on different values than those that have led to the current deregulation between human beings and nature, and this comes with education. “To be able to act, you first have to know,” she affirmed, underlining the role of education in safeguarding biodiversity as well as linguistic and cultural diversity. “We are seeing integrated life projects take root around schools,” she said, citing the example of a project in French Polynesia to safeguard protected marine areas through awareness raising and initiatives involving local communities, especially women. She also noted that renewable energies and access to school are closely connected, inviting participants to mobilize around a project that could aim to equip every school with a panel.*

The Minister also announced that article 8bis of the draft climate agreement covering education, training and awareness-raising was “a full article without brackets…for the moment it is the first article of the Agreement that has been accepted in full by the group in charge,” she said.

The Education Ministers of Morocco and Gabon both underlined that their countries were confronted daily with the effects of global warming. “There is an urgent need to prepare youth to cope, and education is the spearhead of sustainable development,” said Minister Belmokhtar, presenting the wide range of initiatives launched in Morocco since the adoption of an Environment Charter in 2009. There is strong mobilization, illustrated by the opening every year of some 230 eco-schools and the special focus placed on pedagogical support.

Evoking the African context, Minister Moussavou from Gabon described the impact of climate change that is affecting access to education, health and food, and curtailing social and environmental rights. He said that it is crucial to build strong connections between schools and the environment so that youth may gain the skills they need to cope with these changes.

For Nicolas Hulot, founder of the Foundation for Nature and Man, “we have to rethink the meaning of progress, redefine our place in nature and make children aware of these fundamental questions.”

The Director-General also participated in the UN side event organized by UNESCO and other UN agencies entitled “Learning to live with climate change  -  Accelerating climate change education and awareness-raising.”  She said that education was the red thread tying together the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change action. “To succeed, we need greener societies, and fundamentally, we need green citizens.”

She laid out three crucial actions to move forward: integrating sustainable development more deeply into national education systems; giving teachers the knowledge, resources and skills to fulfill their role as change agents; and creating stronger and more innovative partnerships, including with the private sector. She explained that UNESCO works with 13 UN agencies to promote climate change education; leads advocacy at global and regional levels, assists countries to integrate climate change issues in their education systems, and provides technical guidance, training  and resources such as online training courses.

During the event, Ministers from Uganda, Morocco, Peru and the Dominican Republic shared insight into how national strategies have been adopted to integrate climate change education into national curricula.

In the framework of this day, the Director-General visited the Kingdom of Morocco’s pavilion showcasing COP 22, which will take place in Marrakesh in December 2016.  In a meeting with Minister of State for the Environment Hakima El Haite, she asserted that UNESCO stands ready to accompany Morocco to ensure the success of the Conference, and commended national authorities for their comprehensive approach encompassing culture, education diversity, and the search for innovative solutions with a human face, notably for the African continent and least developed countries.

Education for sustainable development is included in Agenda 2030 (SDGs 4 and 13), as well as in Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.