Policy discourse around climate change is revealing the many wide-net impacts on human lives, economies, and natural environments which policymakers can’t afford to be complacent about.
At the heart of the matter lies the pivotal role of individuals, within their many personal and professional capacities, to make more empathetic and informed decisions that are considerate of their natural environments.
Climate education was a previously overshadowed solution, nevertheless, it has the potential to empower societies to understand, protect, and sustain their natural environments.
The Middle East and North Africa region, considered one of the most susceptible areas to climate hazards, is facing the headwinds of the climate crisis.
The region is already battling with a number of forcible challenges, including extremely high temperatures, droughts, low precipitation, limited agricultural lands, and water scarcity.
A report by the World Bank estimates that climate-induced water scarcity alone is projected to cost MENA countries as much as 6 per cent of their GDP by the year 2050.
Transitioning to green economies
These challenges are especially exponential because the scarcity in talent capacities to address all these urgent and complex challenges is also evident.
As such, the successful navigation of transitioning to sustainable green economies will largely be driven by the agility and commitment of governments to seize the potential of climate education in empowering its populations to participate in concerted and collective problem-solving.
Today, it is vitally important for MENA governments to develop an engaging and relevant climate education curriculum that empowers societies to create real, wide-scale impact and also equip students with the competencies to work in the green sector.
Essentially, students need to gain a comprehensive understanding of what is climate change, its causes, its effects, and the roles that many stakeholders — from individuals, corporations, and public sector agencies — play in protecting the environment and mitigating risk factors.
Equally important is offering students the extensive list of positive behaviours to make informed decisions that are in-line with sustainability goals.
For instance, students can be made aware about finding sustainable products, opting for recycling, conserving energy and water resources, and reducing the use of plastics.
At the same time, students can learn about the many ambitious and successful ways in which governments are tackling climate change through the enactment of various policies, legislations, and programs.
Examples include leveraging innovative technologies that drive sustainable agriculture, building sustainable transport systems, protecting nature reserves and natural habits, and incorporating green solutions within infrastructure projects.
Students should also be encouraged to take their learning and apply them within their communities, serving to promote sustainable practices and spread awareness on local environmental issues.
Climate education curriculum
An excellent climate education curriculum must also share with students the latest developments in the field of sustainability in order to attract talents who can discover breakthrough solutions and innovations.
Many universities across the globe are offering world-class degrees relevant to climate change, with dedicated research centers at the forefront of leveraging scientific understanding to formulate effective solutions to mitigate the adverse consequences of climate change.
For example, University College London offers a range of fascinating modules that equip students with expertise and practical skills, including drafting climate mitigation and adaptation plans, understanding the impacts of natural hazards on vulnerable populations in various environmental settings, and explaining the technical design features for renewable technologies.
Students also learn how to leverage a variety of regulatory, economic, educational, social, and technological instruments to catalyse progress.
Therefore, prioritising climate education can carve new avenues for talents to pursue careers in green sectors. Ultimately, climate education should also promote a sense of citizenship and global responsibility among students as they go on to collaborate with international stakeholders to address the issue on a larger scale.
Many cities are already leading this momentum. Recently, the UAE’s Ministry of Education recently signed the Green Education Partnership with UNESCO and UNICEF to spearhead a world-class climate education program across schools and universities in the country.
Positive impact on sustainability
The framework focuses on four core areas that have the largest capacity to substantially make a positive impact on sustainability goals, which include Greening Schools, Greening Learning, Greening Capabilities and Greening Communities.
To elaborate, schools and universities will be provided with comprehensive guidance to become more environmentally friendly and reduce their environmental impact, while at the same time nudging students towards embracing sustainable habits and choices.
Students will be encouraged to promote sustainability within their communities through outreach programs and green initiatives.
The ministry also aims to transition more than half of the UAE’s school to be ‘Green Accredited’ and have 70 eco-friendly campuses by the end of this year.
Furthermore, the ministry will roll-out detailed guidebooks on introducing study topics and activities around climate education to enhance students’ knowledge, skills, and values. At the same time, more than 1,400 principals and 2,800 teachers will be trained to deliver on this road map.
Climate education should be at the cornerstone of sustainability strategies as it empowers societies to develop a profound understanding and appreciation of natural environments, whilst also building a capable talent base for green careers in the future.
Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature