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The fundamental role of education in the battle for climate action

Philip Le Feuvre Chief Strategy Officer at NCFE

8 November 2021

With the COP26 summit in full swing, the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has spoken of the importance of education in the fight for climate action, announcing a range of new measures to be implemented across the UK schooling system.

We know that achieving Net Zero by 2050 will require seismic changes from all sides, and that the role of education is fundamental in getting us there. It’s a huge and daunting task – which is why acting swiftly to embed climate change at the heart of education worldwide is of the utmost importance.

The newly-announced measures are a step in the right direction

The Education Secretary says that “young people will be empowered to take action on the environment” as part of the government’s new measures, which includes a model science curriculum that will be in place by 2023 to teach children about nature and their impact on the world around them.

Young people will also be encouraged to increase biodiversity at their nurseries, schools and colleges. In support of this, they’ll be able to enter their findings onto a new, virtual National Education Nature Park, which will allow them to track their progress against other schools and colleges across the country, whilst developing skills in biodiversity mapping.

Further to this, the new Climate Leaders Award programme will recognise children and young people who are making a difference through local eco-friendly projects, with a national awards ceremony held every year.

All of these measures are a step in the right direction – as well as further embedding and rewarding green thinking across the education system, they also bring young people closer to nature. In the words of Mr Zahawi: “It goes beyond the classroom – our National Education Nature Park and Climate Leaders Awards will let pupils get hands on experience of understanding, nurturing and protecting the biodiversity around them.”

While we welcome these measures, we must not be blind to the scale of the battle we are fighting. These are positive steps, but to achieve Net Zero (defined as “reducing emissions to as close to zero as possible, with the remaining emissions absorbed through natural carbon sinks and new technologies”), we have to go further, and do more as organisations and individually.

Sustainability must run through all levels of education

The Government also announced that from December 2021, all further education teachers trained via an apprenticeship will be required to integrate sustainability into their teaching, promoting sustainable development principles in relation to their subject specialism.

The threading of sustainability throughout teaching and learning is an approach we wholeheartedly agree with here at NCFE, which is why we’ve already committed to embedding sustainability throughout all our products and services, and across our curriculum. As outlined in our recent response to the Government’s Net Zero strategy, green thinking will be weaved throughout our qualifications, contextualised to each relevant sector and taught in clear and concise terms.

We’re also offering qualifications for individuals to gain knowledge in sustainability, including:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Climate Change and Environmental Awareness
  • Level 4 Certificate in Decarbonising Homes: Technologies, Impacts and Solutions (with National Energy Action).

This newly-accredited Level 4 qualification has been developed in collaboration with national fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, to provide a practical understanding of a range of low carbon and renewable technologies, their impacts and how they can help people living in fuel poverty.

There’s no question that collaboration is key to accelerating climate action, and partnerships such as this should become more and more common as we pool our knowledge to reach national and international climate goals.

Looking towards a green future

Earlier this year, I spoke on behalf of NCFE at WorldSkills UK’s “The role of skills excellence in delivering zero carbon” panel discussion. Here, I highlighted the vital role of having a high-performing education system in tackling skills and occupational changes that will be required across a range of industries. One that can help people to not only get their first qualification relevant to a new job, but one that also supports them in transition from one career to another or upskilling within their current role. Whether it’s logistics, transport, energy, or food - we need to rethink the way that we work, which requires education.

It’s imperative that green thinking and sustainability are prevalent throughout not just every sector, but every level of the UK education system – including nursery, school, further and higher education, and adult learning and upskilling – to give us the best fighting chance of tackling climate change.

We’ve seen time and time again the elevated voices of young people, who so effectively demonstrate the critical role of public empowerment and education in climate action. Let’s do everything in our power to equip and support them, at all levels.