Orange News: Glasgow is flooded with young people from all over the world. They are protesting against what they feel is a dangerous disconnect between the escalating climate emergency and the limited concrete commitments announced thus far by countries at COP26. Youth leaders are rightfully concerned that if global leaders don’t act now, it’ll be too late to arrest the destructive social and environmental impacts brought by climate change, ecosystem collapse, and ecological injustice.
Young people are growing up as our climate is breaking down irreversibly. They have a special moral authority at international climate summits because they will be the ones bearing the consequences of high carbon emissions, ecologically destructive activities, and inadequate national commitments. They will also be key decision-makers in governments and boardrooms to navigate an inevitably warmer future. To bring about a carbon-free, liveable, and regenerative future, input from young people is vital. We need to think about a holistic society-wide framework to promote climate education and make a U-turn away from our anti-planetary lifestyle.
As a first step, we need to develop climate literacy through building knowledge and raising awareness. A climate literate person is someone who knows the basics of climate science, understands how humans influence climate systems, can assess scientifically credible information, and in turn communicate this information in a meaningful way. All of this will enable people to make responsible decisions that bring positive impacts to the climate.
Building climate literacy is not just a matter of conferring knowledge. The goal of climate education is for students to find their own answers to the question “how do I act?”. It is about inspiring and empowering young people to become owners of their own solutions to tackle climate change rapidly. Civic Exchange’s Young Environment Ambassador Programme, for example, grants youth with opportunities to think about how they can promote sustainable lifestyles in Hong Kong. Under the Programme, participants were able to learn from climate experts, participate in climate dialogues, and actively mobilise community actions.
However, at present, climate change is insufficiently addressed in school curriculums. According to UNESCO, climate change is only integrated into a bit more than half of school curriculums. Furthermore, 60% of teachers surveyed were unconfident in climate education and only about 1/3 felt they were able to explain the effects of climate change on their region or locality. The education system needs a revolutionary upgrade to make sure that youths have the competence to construct and embrace a net-zero future. In the late 1950s, at the height of the US-USSR space race, the US Congress passed the National Defence Education Act, which dedicated over a billion USD to improving science education. Climate change is a new challenge that is unlike anything that came before—it is a planetary challenge requiring education to evolve on a much faster and more radical scale.
At COP26, UNESCO called the first-ever joint meeting of Ministers of Education and Ministers of Environment. The meeting signalled to the education sector that it is time to integrate climate change into all school levels, ramp up resource and investment to train teachers, and empower students to be part of the solution. Hong Kong must respond to this call. The Education Bureau and Environmental Bureau must collaborate to consider how Hong Kong can deliver our net-zero commitment through developing climate literacy and increasing youth involvement in climate policy. The government can take reference of Japan’s commitment to offer online educational material for students about climate change.
As climate knowledge is complicated and evolves very quickly, Hong Kong’s government and universities should play an active and continuous role. The commitments made in the Hong Kong Climate Action Plan 2050 to strengthen support for climate education needs to extend beyond tertiary institutions, but be integrated into primary and secondary school support as well. Firstly, schools should emphasise that climate solutions are not just led by entrepreneurs and scientists. A climate education is an interdisciplinary education which can connect science, economy, society, humanities, and the arts. Secondly, schools should encourage students to engage with climate change in the classroom and collaborate on impactful projects by linking formal teaching, hands-on projects, experiential learning, and extracurricular activities. Holistically integrating climate change into school curriculums can help build understanding, raise awareness, and motivate action among youths. This contributes to the building of a safer, cleaner, and more equitable future for all.
Originally published on Orange News on 29 Nov 2021. Written by Lawrence Iu.