Preparing education systems to respond to the climate crisis at COP28

Climate Change

“Climate change is like a monster that destroys us. There are storms, hurricanes, it’s very hot, there’s a lot of rain. We are not taking care of the planet; we are filling it with garbage.” 15-year-old girl in Colombia

When we think about climate change we think about extreme weather patterns and a warming planet. We talk about what this means for the future of our planet, and worry about our own children’s futures. 

But for so many children around the world, climate change is affecting their lives and their futures right now. More than 1 billion children currently live in countries facing extreme climate risks. For them, the climate crisis is threatening and disrupting their right to an education today. 

Schools and communities are damaged and destroyed due to climate-induced hazards like floods and storms. Climate change also increases the prevalence of drought and diseases, threatening livelihoods and contributing to increased insecurity. These impacts on health, nutrition, and livelihoods all have knock-on effects on student absenteeism, dropouts, and learning outcomes.  

The world’s poorest and most marginalised communities are most at risk 

Today’s International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction focuses on the connection between disasters and inequality. We know that marginalised and vulnerable communities are most at risk from the impacts of climate change – and are most likely to have children out of school and not learning. 

Take Pakistan for example. Having endured some of the world’s longest school closures due to the pandemic, children in Pakistan faced yet another disruption to their education. Catastrophic flooding destroyed or damaged nearly 27,000 schools in the country, and a year later, many schools damaged in the floods are yet to reopen. 

We also know that marginalised groups such as girls and children with disabilities are most at risk. This week Save the Children published a new report highlighting that the number of girls at extreme risk of the double blow of climate change and child marriage is set to increase by 33% to nearly 40 million by 2050. 

All of this is set against a backdrop of a global education crisis that is getting worse. New UNESCO data published last month alarmingly found that 250 million children globally  are out of school - an increase of 6 million children, after decades of making progress on getting more children into school. 

This should be a wakeup call for the world – millions of children’s futures are in peril, and climate change threatens to exacerbate an already significant global education crisis. And this matters, because a more educated population is better equipped to overcome the challenges presented by climate change and contribute to a future green and sustainable economy.

What can be done to better prepare our education systems in the face of climate change? 

In responding to both the education and climate crisis, we need to think about preparedness and anticipatory action. Every ministry of education, whether in a high-, middle-, or low-income country needs to be better prepared to respond to crises – to ensure that learning can continue and children’s rights to education are fulfilled. 

Anticipatory action is an approach which systematically links early warnings and triggers to actions designed to protect families, communities and public services, including national education systems, ahead of a hazard. Acting before a disaster is crucial – it can safeguard lives and livelihoods, build resilience to future shocks, and ease pressure on strained humanitarian resources. This in turn helps to prevent or reduce the impact of an emergency on children’s learning and enhances the education system response.

The Comprehensive School Safety Framework: a guide to education preparedness 

Leading the way in this arena are the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES), which is composed of 17 partner organizations, including regional affiliates across the world. 

GADRRRES developed The Comprehensive School Safety Framework, which provides strategic guidance to governments to promote safe, equitable and continuous access to a quality education for all. The CSSF takes an “all-hazards, all-risks” approach, including natural and climate-change induced hazards, technological hazards, biological and health hazards, conflict, and violence as well as everyday dangers and threats. 

Save the Children are working with GADRRRES to promote the CSSF with support from vital partners and advocates such as Prudence Foundation. We are calling for all governments to endorse and implement the framework in order to ensure their education systems are better prepared for a range of risks and hazards, including those caused by climate change. 

Leaders must take bold action on education at COP28

The global education community are now looking ahead to this year’s COP28 Summit, when leaders across the world will gather to make new commitments on tackling climate change. It is imperative for commitments to centre on the way climate change affects children’s rights today – including their right to education. 

We want to see governments commit to a bold agenda to integrate education and climate strategies and policies. This requires integrating education into climate plans - including NDCs and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) – as well as  integrating climate action into their national education strategies and policies to make schools more climate resilient and greener.  

We are also calling for an increase in climate finance allocated to education. This is in recognition that education needs more funding to respond to and build resilience in the context of climate change, but also because education is a critical pillar of climate action. 

Finally – we must act to protect and prepare education from the climate crisis because children tell us this matters to them. In a survey conducted by Save the Children last year, 41% of children told us that they think that climate change is making their access to education around the world worse. The countdown is on – we must see leaders take bold action on education at COP28 this year. 

The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.