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Who is responsible for disseminating climate education?

What’s happening? Nine-year-old environmental activist Licypriya Kangujam has become the youngest recipient of the TN Khoshoo Memorial Award in recognition of her global campaign to highlight climate change, including the necessity for widespread climate education. Kangujam, who created the Child Movement to raise awareness about the issue, is lobbying for compulsory climate education in Indian schools alongside an effort for every student to plant 10 trees each year and for the government to pass robust climate change legislation in support of a green recovery. In particular, she emphasised the immediate need for elected officials to address the “lack of a strong curriculum” focused on the environment.

Why does this matter? Kanjugam’s call for universal, compulsory climate education raises questions about who provides this and how knowledge can be shared globally.

Elite academic institutions often portray themselves as being at the cutting edge of education around climate change. They often, however, tend to also value exclusivity, potentially limiting the spread of valuable climate knowledge. To take one example, Oxford University’s MSc in Environmental Change and Management course only has a 6.1% acceptance ratio, seeing an average of 406 applications annually, yet only offering 25 places.

When courses are less exclusive in terms of entry requirements, they can often price students out. A three-week online course on sustainable business practices offered by Harvard Business School, for example, costs $1,050.

Some universities, like Imperial College London, are starting to provide free courses on climate-related subjects.This perhaps shows an awareness that there is a social responsibility to widen access to environmental education. Western institutions may also need to consider expanding beyond their borders. Considering developing economies and disadvantaged demographics globally are often the most vulnerable to climate risks, this onus to provide accessible education becomes yet more pronounced.

Multiple stakeholders have echoed the need for greater education around climate issues. Former US education officials recently underlined the importance of integrating renewable energy solutions into the curriculum. Meanwhile, the UN-led Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) has launched an online “Green Economy Learning” platform.
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A future area for higher education institutions to explore, alongside sharing public educational resources, is bridging the gap between ESG roles and academia. There are already a number of universities and business schools, such as the University of Michigan, incorporating work experience in ESG fund-management into curriculums. Action-based learning could well be an emerging trend, the growth of which would likely have a positive effect.

Lateral thought from Curation – Providing such free or subsidised resources at scale may put a strain on academic institutions’ business models. Amid recent reports that the majority of the UK’s 24 Russell Group universities have relied on cumulative funding of over £60m ($80m) from the fossil fuel sector since 2015, there is perhaps an ethical antagonism here – between controversial funding sources and academic institutions embracing Corporate Social Responsibility policies to support sustainability-related knowledge sharing.

Abir Qazilbash

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