How can the Education in Emergencies sector better respond to the climate emergency?

“You can’t fatten a chicken by weighing it – as well as collecting data, you need to make use of it. We also need research on why the actions that are needed are not happening. Why are the changes not being made? Which partnerships are effective? And how effective can they be?” Moira Faul, Executive Director NORRAG, Geneva Graduate Institute

The rapid and intensifying climate crisis threatens children’s rights to education, healthcare, food and safety, among others. Considering that nearly half of all children – a billion or more – live in countries at extremely high risk of suffering the consequences of climate change, there is an urgent need to address its effects on the right to education.

Education in emergencies (EiE) can support and strengthen communities’ adaptive capacities and resilience to current and future risks posed by the climate crisis. It has the potential to ensure the meaningful, inclusive participation of local actors in strengthening the resilience of education systems against climate risks. The work of EiE can therefore benefit from reflection and discussion of the many interconnected effects of climate change, to protect the right to education in the face of the climate crisis and improve the lives of children and communities suffering from its impacts.

A panel of speakers from Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the Uganda Red Cross Society, NORCAP and NORRAG, Geneva Graduate Institute, shared their expertise at an event hosted by the Geneva Global Hub for EiE as part of the 2022 Humanitarian Networks Partnerships Week.

The topic was introduced by H.E. Laouali Labo, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Niger to the UN. He reminded the audience that climate change, while global in scope, affects everyone locally – and those who contributed least are more often than not affected most. “The consequences of climate change will differ depending on where you are,” he said. “It won’t have the same results in a Sahelian country as it will in a mountainous country – solutions must be adapted to local needs, and education is essential to strengthening the resilience of populations, enabling them to take charge of their climate decisions.”

“Children should be encouraged and supported to speak up about climate change ,” said Dilmani Wickramasinghe, child advocate from Sri Lanka. “It could include educating children on the adverse effects of climate change, the signs and precautions we can take before disaster strikes. The Government should have a plan and process to educate children, to help them identify and inform the relevant authorities to take the required prevention, protection and adaptation measures.”

“Education can encourage people to change their attitudes and behaviours, and it can also empower them to make their own informed decisions,” added Sekagya Abdulrazaq, Youth representative from the Uganda Red Cross Society. “We need to adopt and embrace technology; we need to fund and implement evidence-based climate-resilient education solutions; and we need to invest in early-warning systems and anticipatory action.”

These contributors voiced the growing awareness and appetite for climate action among young people. But many existing systems and structures are in need of significant reform before they are ready to meet current challenges, especially in crisis situations. The growing understanding of what needs to be done has been slow to produce results at the level of policy.

“During floods, for example, schools can be destroyed, or in other displacement crises schools can be used as shelters, and therefore not available for education,” said Dr Bina Desai, Head of Programmes at IDMC. “The resulting situations and temporary accommodations can end up dragging out for a long time, and afterwards it often takes far too long to see the rebuilding or repairing of schools, further extending the period that the emergency affects the education of children.”

“Surveys have shown that 95% of teachers believe climate change is important or very important to teach, and young people care a lot,” said Moira Faul, Executive Director NORRAG, Geneva Graduate Institute. “But IBE-UNESCO did a review of school curricula last year, and less than half of those studied even made reference to climate change. Fewer than half of teachers had ever received any guidance on teaching about climate change.”

Benedicte Giæver, Executive Director of NORCAP, noted the challenges resulting from a lack of integration between education and addressing climate change. “This is a problem that is common across many sectors,” she said. “It takes time. But schools have a particularly important role to play, because the evidence shows that when children learn, they take that back to their homes and their families.”

The discussion was moderated by Global Education Cluster Coordinator Michelle Brown.