Q&A: UNESCO and the Office for Climate Education - boosting climate action through learning


On the occasion of Earth Day, the president of OCE Eric Guilyardi and UNESCO Assistant Director- General for Education Stefania Giannini joined in conversation about education and climate action.

Find the article on Unesco website 

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. 2020 was one of the hottest years on record, according to an analysis by NASA, and since the late 19th century the earth’s average temperature has risen by more than 1.2 degrees Celsius.  Ms. Giannini, how can education contribute to climate action?

Ms Giannini: Humans are increasingly influencing the earth’s temperature by burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming livestock. The only way to counter climate change is to transform our lifestyles and establish sustainable patterns of production and consumption worldwide.

Climate change education has been increasingly recognized as a priority for Climate Action by the international community. The Paris agreement, the UN Convention on Climate Change as well as the Action for Climate Empowerment Agenda all recognize education as crucial to promote climate action.

Climate change education is part of UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development programme, which aims at transforming societies by transforming education. It focuses on empowering people with the necessary knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to live more sustainably, including by raising awareness on the causes and effects of global warming, promoting problem-solving and critical thinking skills to encourage people to take action.


How is UNESCO acting in this area?

Ms Giannini: We have been working to make education a central and more visible part of the international response for climate change. As part of the Organization’s Strategy on Climate Change, we advocate for Climate Change Education, produce and share knowledge, provide country support, policy guidance and implement projects on the ground. We also provide data on country progress and facilitate dialogue and exchange of experiences and best practices.

For example, UNESCO co-organized with the UNFCCC the 8th Dialogue on Action for Climate Empowerment in 2020 and developed a guide to provide countries with advice on how to integrate Action for Climate Empowerment in their respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and reflect countries efforts to reduce national emissions. Another example is the Getting Climate Ready Project, through which UNESCO has been supporting schools to become climate friendly and UNESCO You-CAN, the organization’s youth network for climate action.


What are the perspectives to take forward climate action through education?

Ms. Giannini: This year is particularly important for climate change education. At the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, we hope to mobilize government’s support and engagement to the new global framework of Education for Sustainable Development, ‘ESD for 2030’, that includes climate change as a key issue. At COP 26, a new work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment, which includes education, is expected to be adopted. We hope that governments will commit to Education for Sustainable Development and foster the collaboration between the education and the environment sectors.


At the initiative of the French government, the Office for Climate Education (OCE) was recently established as a UNESCO center. Mr. Guilyardi, could you please tell us why this centre was established and what are its main objectives and activities?

Mr. Guilyardi: The Office for Climate Education (OCE) was established in 2018 under the auspices of the French Foundation ‘La main à la pâte’. Our aim to educate the younger generations about climate change, its causes and consequences, by providing primary and secondary teachers with tools and resources and to enhance international cooperation between scientific organizations, education institutions and NGOs. In 2020, OCE became a category 2 centre of UNESCO, which will allow it to increase the scope and impact of its actions. Despite the challenge that climate change represents, our educational resources and activities are aimed towards action, hope and positive thinking. We promote the use of active pedagogies and an interdisciplinary approach to climate change education that takes into account global and local realities.

Since its establishment, OCE has been implementing a systemic vision articulated around 4 axes:

  • Producing, adapting and disseminating free, open and multilingual pedagogical resources on climate change, based on the IPCC reports.
  • Providing educators and teacher trainers around the world with professional development workshops and support.
  • Facilitating cross collaboration between various actors such as scientific institutions, NGOs and ministries of education to implement operational projects on the field.
  • Assisting education systems as well as policy-makers in the integration of climate change into the school curricula.


What are the challenges to implement climate change education?  

Mr. Guilyardi: A first challenge is the absence of climate change topics in most of the school curricula. Therefore, teachers cannot be provided with appropriate professional development and education schools.

Secondly, school systems are often organized in a disciplinary way, especially at secondary level. We know that climate change education needs an interdisciplinary approach, and this fragmentation may be an obstacle.

Social acceptability is no longer an issue since most of the stakeholders are now convinced of the challenges posed by climate change and the importance of education. But, from the students and teachers’ points of view, a new difficulty appeared: Eco-anxiety. Teachers have a difficult role to play, they need to raise awareness among students on the real and important challenges posed by climate change, while promoting a positive vision of their future. A “critical mind with a hopeful heart”.

We need to support teachers both to acquire a better knowledge of climate change issues and to get more familiar with the specific pedagogical approaches required by climate change education: inquiry based science education, critical thinking, project-based learning, interdisciplinarity, etc.


How can schools get involved with the Office for Climate Education (OCE)?

Mr. Guilyardi: OCE promotes a horizontal working approach. We create educational resources for and with teachers, therefore our team is always looking forward to collaborating with schools to see how we can best support the climate education needs of teachers around the world. For example, we are currently inviting schools to use our recently launched educational kit, called The Climate in our hands.

The first volume of this project is dedicated to the theme of Ocean and Cryosphere and is composed of a collection of educational resources for primary and secondary school teachers which include; a handbook, a summary of the IPCC special report, video expert interviews, animations and science based experiments. All these resources are cost-free, multilingual and royalty-free and can be used by teachers for distance or physical learning at schools to generate knowledge and inspire climate action. Schools can also participate in the implementation of field-projects, in partnership with our local partners (for the moment in Latin America and France, but in the future in other regions of the world).


Ms. Giannini and Mr. Guilyardi, what would UNESCO and OCE recommend to strengthen climate change education in the future?

Mr. Guilyardi: A lot of initiatives exist worldwide and can provide sources of inspiration. What is missing is that all stakeholders – policy-makers, curriculum developers, teachers, school administration teams etc. build coherent, efficient and systemic actions to support climate change education at a large scale.

Ms. Giannini: Indeed, there is a real need to build systemic actions and this is only possible with government’s support. At the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in May, we hope to enhance policy commitment through the ‘Berlin Declaration’, which will include a call for urgent action to accelerate sustainability and climate action through education. Through its new global framework ESD for 2030, we are also launching ‘country initiatives’, which aims to mobilize several stakeholders, including youth, educators, policy-makers, civil society and the private sector at the national level to ensure a coherent and coordinated approach while promoting sustainability through education. We will then take the outcomes of the World Conference forward to COP 26, where we aim at enhancing the commitment of the education and environment sectors to address climate change through education.


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