Climate change education: what happened at COP27 and what happens next?
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 November 2022
So, how was COP?
Good…? Exhausting…? Productive…? Challenging…?
It is difficult to sum up the experience of attending the annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP. COP can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. It can leave you feeling determined and despairing. Motivated and overwhelmed. Fearful and hopeful. All at the same time. Intertwined with the tangle of feelings that we bring home from our experience at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, one thing is (relatively) clear. This year, COP27 resulted in good news for education. Through an immense collaborative effort of Member Parties and Observers, progress was made towards implementing an internationally coordinated educational response to climate change. Here, we briefly reflect on this achievement and its implications for climate change education in England and further afield.
Of foremost importance for education is that at COP27 countries agreed to a new global Action Plan on Action for Climate Empowerment, or ACE. ACE is the term used to describe a broad area of work set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) and the Paris Agreement (2015) which includes education alongside five other elements: Training, Public Awareness, Public Participation, Public Access to Information, and International Cooperation.
The new four-year ACE Action Plan commits countries to “short-term, clear and time-bound activities” across four priority areas that were agreed at COP26 in the Glasgow work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment. The priority areas – Policy Coherence, Coordinated Action, Tools and Support, and Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting – are intended to accelerate ACE implementation around the world. The Action Plan sets out activities to be undertaken by the UNFCCC Secretariat, alongside youth and youth organisations, research community, financial institutions, relevant organisations and national governments, all “according to national circumstances”.
For countries like England, and the UK as a whole, the significance of the Action Plan is at least three-fold. First, the Action Plan lays a foundation upon which a national ACE Action Plan can be developed, and one that aligns with and contributes to international efforts and that befits our “national circumstances”. Second, the ACE framing invites a national response that includes and extends the DfE’s recently launched sustainability and climate strategy for the education and children’s services systems. The ACE framing induces the government to plan for an educational response to climate change that is integrated with other ACE elements and, therefore, a response that straddles multiple government ministries. Third, the Action Plan could be viewed as setting a clear challenge for the UK. That is to say, if the UK Government is to fulfil its ambition of being “the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030” it will need to go beyond the minimum requirements captured in the Action Plan. This could be an exciting time for climate change and sustainability education in this country.
‘Together for Implementation’: is it more than a hashtag?
Criticism of the annual conference and its processes pours from mainstream and social media each year. The conference has been accused of being a ‘talk-fest’, of exclusivity, and of green-washing and youth-washing. This year, serious concerns were raised about the host country’s human rights and climate record. Going into the conference, we also wondered to what extent ‘Together for Implementation’ would be anything more than a tagline in relation to ACE. Given that there were very thorny issues of finance and human rights to be negotiated in ACE, would Parties be able to work together and agree to a text?
At the end of the conference, and as far as ACE is concerned, we offer a tentative ‘yes’. We were struck by superhuman efforts we witnessed across the week as policymakers and political actors worked closely together. Collaboration, compromise and commitment were crucial ingredients for reaching agreement on the Action Plan. Nevertheless, we also know that an Action Plan is not implementation: it merely sets out a commitment or intention to act. Time will tell if the new ACE Action Plan serves as a robust enough framework to accelerate national and local implementation.
Researcher-practitioner-policymaker relationships are key
Our experience at COP27 gave us fresh insight into the crucial importance of ongoing knowledge exchange between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. The individuals that we engaged with at COP27 demonstrated tremendous commitment to ACE and skill at working in the complex COP environment as negotiators, panelists, diplomats and events coordinators. As researchers and education practitioners, we have knowledge and practical experience that can support these individuals to fulfil their positions of influence in informed ways. At UCL’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, we will continue to share research-informed insights with various arms of the UK government, as well as with other countries, as we contribute towards the creation of policies that will support the types of transformational education practice that the world so desperately needs.