What does our world need right now? Climate change educators to lead the way…

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

COP28 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference – was held in the United Arab Emirates and ended last week, but, for future generations, the decisions made will live on for some time.

With many high school graduates wondering how their recent ATAR results may guide them towards meaningful, change-making career pathways, understanding what those decisions were may be a motivating force to explore studies around climate science and how to make a positive difference to the planet.

To start, many nations, including Australia, the US, the UK, Canada and Japan, pushed against an early draft of the COP28 agreement, claiming it was insufficient and did not suggest a ‘phase out’ or ‘phase down’ of fossil fuels.

On behalf of the umbrella group, Australian Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said the agreement would be a death sentence to small island nation states who will be most affected if the earth warms past 1.5C.

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“My friend Cedric Schuster, the Samoan minister, said tonight of this draft that we will not sign our death certificates,” Minister Bowen says.
“That’s what’s at stake for many countries who are represented here tonight and many people who do not have a voice. We will not be a co-signatory to those death certificates.”

Minister Bowen released Australia’s annual climate statement that projects a 42% reduction in CO2 below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The conference, eventually, finished with 196 countries agreeing to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

Activists warn of inaction

Activists lambasted the nomination of COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, questioning the impartiality of the head of the United Arab Emirates national oil company.

Extinction Rebellion activist Violet Coco told EducationDaily conflicts of interest have been behind the stalling of any real action at COP talks throughout its history.

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“More emissions have been released since the first COP than in the 75 years before it,” she told EducationDaily.

“Outrageously, the chair of the COP28 used the platform to make more fossil fuel projects. COP is a farce, which is deadly to us, as we need international cooperation now more than ever to protect us from global boiling.”

Despite the controversies, Dr Kim Beasy, a Senior Lecturer in Equity and Diversity at the University of Tasmania, says there were some big wins this year regarding tackling climate change.

“[This includes] the signing and endorsement of the ‘declaration on the common agenda for education and climate change’ by 41 member states,” she told EducationDaily.

“This is a great political step. It signifies awareness of the global gap in climate change education across sectors and a commitment to address it. What we still need is a road map and appropriate resourcing for countries on how to do this work quickly and consistently across all education sectors.”

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Progress must be faster

Another breakthrough was the progress made on the issue of Loss and Damage, says Director of the Monash Innovation Guarantee, Dr Susie Ho, who works on ACE (Action for Climate Empowerment), which denotes Article 12 of the UNFCCC and Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and attended COP28.

“[It’s] whereby richer industrialised nations compensate poorer nations for the visceral and devastating impacts of climate change on their cultures and livelihoods,” she told EducationDaily.

“The creation of this fund and its deployment will be one of the biggest achievements for COP talks, and it’s encouraging to see the Loss and Damage Fund being progressed. However, the financial pledges so far fall short by several orders of magnitude, leaving our vulnerable least developed nations without the support they need.”

More measures are needed

Jim Radford is an Associate Professor at the Department of Environment and Genetics at La Trobe University and says the decisions, while welcome, won’t be enough.

“While the final COP28 communique marks progress in the right direction, it does not convey the sense of urgency nor the scale of cuts required to make sure the world is on track to avoid dangerous climate change,” he told EducationDaily.

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“There is a recognition of the scale of cuts required but no solid commitment to meet them in the timeframe dictated by the science. A ‘phase-down of unabated coal power’ is not enough – what defines ‘unabated’ and how much is a ‘phase down’?”

“A ‘phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ is welcome, but by when and what is meant by ‘inefficient’? Such qualifications, caveats and weasel words leave open loopholes that mean the world is not doing enough to curb climate change. An absolute guarantee to move away from fossil fuels entirely by a set date is ultimately what is required but sadly missing from the final agreement.”

Greater emphasis on climate education

To help safeguard the future of next generations, Dr Ho says we need to develop a stronger emphasis on climate education.

“Education for climate change and sustainable development needs to include elements of global citizenship and cross-cultural learning to ensure that society understands the plight of the world’s most vulnerable and future leaders leave no one behind, including our Pacific neighbours, who are facing the existential threats of sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and typhoons,” she told EducationDaily.

“Youth and young people need to understand how COP works, but I would argue that we need to go one step further. We need to actively and intentionally further integrate the voice of children and youth into intergovernmental and national decision-making. As custodians of our future and the recipients of greater health and climate impacts than any other generation in history, today’s young people need to be empowered to play a role in political forums.”

Dr Beasy works with Curious Climate Schools, a project that teaches schools about climate change across Tasmania.

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“We know that young people have questions about climate change and about the future,” she told EducationDaily.

“It’s important that they have the opportunity to ask their questions and to explore possible futures constructively. Often, we don’t give young people enough credit for being able to handle ‘big’ information, but this is not true.”

As educators supporting young people to thrive, Dr Beasy says “we need to have honest conversations about possible futures – but in emotionally supported ways”.

“I think there is a precedence for climate change to be framed in science terms without recognising how emotional it can be,” she says. “If we acknowledge this and build this into our conversations, we are far better placed to do the awareness-raising and future-thinking that is needed.”

Young people should be informed

Ben Newell is Professor of Behavioural Science in the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and Director of the UNSW Institute for Climate Risk & Response.

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His research focuses on the cognitive processes underlying judgment, choice and decision-making.

Mr Newell attended the summit in Dubai this year as a representative for the university. He says young people need to be informed of the process of COP28.

“The Australian government is part of a negotiating process with almost 200 other countries with the goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system,” he told EducationDaily.

“This process happens annually at the COP meetings, and the outcome of the meeting has significant impacts on the future of our planet. There is a need for basic climate literacy that provides young people with objective, realistic perspectives on the pathways to potential climate futures.”

Dr Jim Radford echoes this sentiment.

“It is a complex and difficult process,” he told EducationDaily.

“While I am firm believer that ultimately, we can replace all fossil fuel use with renewable energy sources, this cannot happen overnight. This is not an excuse to delay but actually a reason for more urgent action – because it is going to be difficult but with investment and removal of vested interests (i.e., big coal and oil companies) it can happen much faster than it currently is.”

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Direct action can create change

However, Violet Coco says the objective and realistic response is in direct action.

“Everyone has a right to know if their life is in danger,” she told EducationDaily.

“The situation we are facing is an existential threat. How can anyone act proportionately to the threat if they are unaware of its extent? Some say ‘don’t scare people’, but if your house is on fire, you don’t want the firefighters to let you sleep in, you want them to wake you up and deal with the fire… our house is on fire, it’s time to act in alignment with the emergency we are in.”

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.