Many believe that civilisation as we know it and the natural world are in crisis. This is what Sir David Attenborough told world leaders at the recent UN Climate Change Summit.
The naturalist is concerned by greenhouse emissions and is calling for urgent action to address climate change. Without this, more species are close to extinction and for many people, regions and countries, it is increasingly critical urgent action is taken.
While these stark warnings are terrifying, they are well informed and reiterate the need for a concerted, global effort to establish more sustainable ways of living. This needs to start at a grassroots level and education can play a key role.
First, however, educators need to better embrace global sustainability initiatives to help influence the choices future generations make. This will not only help address current climate change issues, it will help future generations avoid further contributing to them.
There are many positive actions taking place within society to reduce pollution. Governments and many other organisations are tackling waste and increasing recycling. New innovations are helping clean-up the oceans. All of these efforts are highly commendable and much needed, but they are very focused on the here and now. More emphasis needs to shift to the longer term so that society as a whole is more proactive in its approach to environmental preservation.
There is already a blueprint for a brighter, more resourceful and environmentally considerate future in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals. Although, when we look across various governments’ policies for achieving these goals, there’s no clear focus on how they should be taught to students. This needs to change.
Making sustainable development goals part of the curriculum is something all schools should do. It will create a deeper knowledge and understanding of the challenges of sustainability and connect children with real world issues.
Too much teaching around sustainability and climate change is focused on the theoretical. This learning needs to evolve to focus on what’s happening now in the world, including the UN’s commitments and targets to improve sustainability.
Making the UN goals part of all students’ learning will help broaden the understanding of what sustainability really means. Being sustainable is often associated with green living, but that is just scratching the surface. As well as positive climate action, true sustainability encompasses equality, economic growth and circular economies, peace and justice, industry and innovation, consumption and production, and work and education.
These are topics that span the breadth of the curriculum, so learning about climate change needn’t be limited to subjects like geography and science. It’s just as relevant to teach this in subjects such as maths, English and the arts.
Sir David Attenborough’s climate change comments were made to an audience of more than 200 international delegates. They had gathered to discuss how to turn pledges made as part of the Paris climate deal in 2015 into reality. If we want to see real change, these conversations can’t be restricted to global summits. They need to become a constant feature of classroom discussions in order to empower tomorrow’s generation to take positive action and change all of our futures.