Climate education must become a legal requirement in schools – the future of the planet depends on it

Today will be the first time that climate education is debated in parliament – the first step towards making the teaching of sustainability and the climate crisis mandatory

In four days’ time, Cop26 will open. It represents one of the last hopes for governments to get their acts together and cut emissions at the scale and pace needed to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Whatever happens at this conference, it will be young people who will be left to pick up the pieces. While politicians talk about 2050 as some far-off point in the distant future, long after their careers are over, today’s school children will be in the middle of their working lives.

Many will live to see the end of this century – and the full effects of climate inaction. But our education system is failing to prepare young people for this future. Whilst we’re told to list the benefits of climate change in geography lessons, we’re not once taught about the historical events and political systems that catalysed the climate crisis, the social and economic repercussions that this catastrophe will induce, or what constitutes the possible solutions.

Consequently, we’re not equipped with the skills we need to live and work in a world increasingly impacted by the climate crisis and are denied information on the climate that isn’t confined to small sections in science GCSEs or optional subjects like horticulture and environmental science, which few institutions have the financial capacity to host.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 70 per cent of teachers reported no mention of the climate in their training qualifications, whilst only 4 per cent of students said that they knew a lot about the climate crisis. It’s clear that students aren’t adequately prepared for the workforce they’ll inherit, and teachers aren’t equipped to deliver this vital education.

This cannot continue. We need to ensure climate education is no longer exclusive to those who take optional subjects or briefly glazed over, but instead centred in all subjects. The climate crisis will affect everyone, whether they are a builder or a banker, a carer or a pharmacist.

This means that climate education must be intertwined into every subject in a way that is accessible to all. Climate education needs to be extended to include knowledge about how to stop and abate the climate emergency and ecological crisis, deliver climate justice and provide support for students to deal with eco and climate anxiety – something which climate education will also mitigate, as students will be empowered with the information needed to tackle the issue.

We also need to be taught about and prepared to adapt to our changing world. The climate crisis is already here. Our education system needs to stop treating this disaster as a hypothetical future and instead ensure we are ready for what is an inevitable reality.

To achieve all of this, we must reform teacher training qualifications to prepare teachers to educate their students on the climate crisis and its interdependence with their subjects. A transformative education system could revolutionise our economy.

Whether that’s introducing climate apprenticeships in the renewable energy sector, expanding vocational courses so that they cover sustainability, or changing academic content to give us a realistic idea of our world and subjects in their climate-impacted contexts.

By doing so, we can create thousands of green jobs and set a precedent for the rest of the world, while also saving the costs of tackling extreme climate breakdown further down the line. The government’s plans arguably depend on it.

If the government is serious about getting to net zero by 2050, it needs the workforce to do it. For all the government’s talk about the importance of skills-based education, it is missing a trick by failing to train the next generation who will be essential to the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Today will be the first time that climate education is debated in parliament – the first step towards making the teaching of sustainability and climate change a legal requirement across the curriculum.

We’re bringing youth climate strikers to the corridors of power, so MPs can come face to face with the next generation fighting to save our planet. Young people want to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. What we need are the skills and knowledge to do so. Our demands are simple: teach us the truth, prepare us for the future.

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