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Today, 5th June, is World Environment Day – a day dedicated to highlighting how the protection and health of the environment effects the well-being of people and societies around the world.

Also, a day to talk about education.  

Why? Because education is a powerful tool in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Yet climate change threatens the efficient provision of education. We call this the Education-Climate Nexus

Education is increasingly vulnerable to climate change. The 2024 World Environment Day is dedicated to land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience (see UNESCO). Timely so. Heat waves, storms, droughts are just some of the natural disasters that threaten and disrupt the learning of millions with children at an extremely high risk to exposure of climate-related crises, as UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and Education Cannot Wait (ECW) show in their respective studies and reports:

The effects of climate change on education are often overlooked. For once, because when climate shocks hit, people’s lives are threatened. Restoring drinking water, food, and shelter become the primary need. But climate shocks destroy schools and universities or render classrooms unsafe in heat and storm. Floods make it impossible to travel to schools. And extensive climate-related crises trigger displacement. 

ECW also stresses that the severity of impacts of climate shocks depends on pre-existing vulnerability and exposure leaves, hitting those most vulnerable the hardest. ECW data shows that the education of 62 million already crisis-affected children in 27 countries was disrupted by climate shocks in 2020 and 14 million children of school age were displaced. 

If learners’ access to education is disrupted over extended periods, this impacts their prospects on the labour market and threatens access to diverse livelihood opportunities. It makes them more vulnerable to poverty and a lack of social protection. UNICEF also finds that “[a] child who lacks access to adequate education is more vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks and stresses”, a deadly circle.

Yet, education provides the tools to adapt and mitigate climate change. Education provides knowledge to manage risks, empowers to become agents of change, impacts life-style choices with regard to carbon footprints and protecting the environment, to name a few.   

It is time for a call worldwide for disaster preparedness and climate education in schools and upskilling teachers while at the same time making the education systems climate resilient. Schools, infrastructure, and transport need to be prepared to withstand extreme weather conditions, amongst other.

The world has not been blind though. In December 2023, during COP28 (28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) member states signed a milestone Declaration on the Common Agenda for Education and Climate Change stressing the impacts of climate crisis on education and that at the same time, education provides the “knowledge and skills required for a changing world and plays an essential role to powering the shift at scale to more sustainable, equitable, just, and climate-resilient societies”.

This common understanding of recognising and addressing the Education-Climate nexus provides hope. But it is a long way to go. The declaration has been endorsed by 45 states so far. Ireland is not yet among them. And it has been 6 months since COP28. Has it been forgotten on the agenda? The potential is there, as Ireland is a strong supporter of GPE and ECW and their efforts in the area of climate change are growing. It is time to act and call on the Irish government to take a leadership role on this front. This will be a – if not the – most important dual agenda of today.