Transforming Education for a Greener Future: The Whole-School Approach

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UNESCO is taking charge on Climate Change Education for Social Transformation, gearing up for a Whole-Institution Approach to Green Every School post the 2023 COP28. Get ready for a major green makeover! 🌍🌱 #ClimateAction #GreenSchoolInitiative.

At COP27 in 2022, the UN Secretary-General emphasized:

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” as we strive to transform our societies to reach the 1.5-degree path recommended by the Paris Agreement. In an increasingly complex and interconnected world facing a real, existential threat like climate change, there is a growing call for education to empower individuals as agents of change, enabling them to acquire knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that lead to the green transition of our societies, as enshrined in SDG Target 4.7 and the entire 2030 Agenda.

To accelerate urgent action on climate sustainability, the Greening Education Partnership was launched during the Transforming Education Summit as a global initiative to deliver strong, coordinated, and comprehensive action to advance and improve the implementation of climate change education. The partnership encourages countries and key stakeholders to focus on four action areas:

    • Greening schools
    • Greening curriculum
    • Greening capacities of teachers and education systems
    • Greening communities

Following the success of the initial eight-month series on climate change education for social transformation leading up to COP27, which drew 15,000 participants from 184 countries and concentrated on greening every education policy and curriculum, a second series of six webinars was launched by UNESCO and UNFCCC. These webinars ran from May to December 2023, addressing the greening of schools in preparation for COP28 in Dubai, UAE. The discussions centered on ensuring that all educational institutions, spanning early childhood through adult education, are climate-ready.

The focus was on integrating a whole-institution approach to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to transform teaching and learning, school facilities and operations, school governance, and community engagement.

Now, let’s explore the specifics of this initiative to understand what a green school entails. According to UNESCO’s update on May 3, 2023, a ‘green school’ can be defined as an educational institution that imparts knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to promote the social, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. This is achieved through a whole-institution approach to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in its teaching and learning, facilities and operations, school governance, and community partnerships. The discussion initiated a series of conversations exploring the essence of embracing a whole-institution approach to ESD, with a particular emphasis on climate change.

The ‘green school’ initiative

A ‘green school’ is not just a physical space but an educational institution committed to fostering holistic sustainability. It goes beyond traditional teaching methods by integrating knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that promote the social, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. This commitment is embodied through a comprehensive approach known as Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

The essence of a ‘green school’ lies in adopting a whole-institution approach to ESD across various aspects of its functioning.

This includes teaching and learning practices, the design and management of facilities and operations, the structure of school governance, and the establishment of meaningful community partnerships.

In terms of teaching and learning, a green school emphasizes a curriculum that not only imparts academic knowledge but also instills a deep understanding of sustainability issues. It equips students with practical skills to address real-world challenges and nurtures values and attitudes that promote responsible citizenship and environmental stewardship.

Facilities and operations play a pivotal role in a green school’s commitment to sustainability. From energy-efficient infrastructure to waste reduction initiatives, these schools prioritize environmentally friendly practices. The physical environment serves as a learning space itself, reflecting sustainable principles and inspiring students to live and act sustainably.

The governance structure of a green school is characterized by a commitment to sustainable decision-making. Policies and practices align with the principles of ESD, ensuring that sustainability is integrated into the school’s mission and daily operations. This commitment extends to transparent communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, fostering a culture of shared responsibility.

Crucially, a green school actively engages with the wider community through partnerships that promote sustainable practices beyond the school walls. This community-oriented approach enhances the impact of sustainability initiatives and reinforces the interconnectedness of local and global efforts.

The discussion on embracing a whole-institution approach to ESD, with a specific focus on climate change, marks the beginning of a series of conversations aimed at shaping the ethos of green schools. These conversations underscore the urgent need to address environmental challenges collectively and recognize the pivotal role that educational institutions can play in shaping a sustainable future.


COP28 launched the world’s largest green schools investment 

Climate change jeopardizes the right to quality education for nearly one billion children in countries highly vulnerable to its effects. Annually, climate events disrupt learning for around 40 million children, a number expected to increase with the growing intensity and frequency of such events. By 2050, climate change is projected to displace over 143 million people, severely impacting the education and mental well-being of countless children.

To tackle this looming threat, the world’s largest climate and education funds launched at COP28 in the UAE, the initiative, named Building the Climate Resilience of Children and Communities through the Education Sector (BRACE), represents a groundbreaking climate finance investment in the education sector, aiming to ensure safe learning environments for millions of children. This innovative funding approach will aid education systems in vulnerable nations by building climate-resilient schools, incorporating climate change into curricula, and offering early climate warnings to schools.

Laura Frigenti, CEO of GPE, emphasized the urgency of safeguarding children and their education from extreme weather impacts. She highlighted the need for collective efforts to protect the most vulnerable children, providing them with the education necessary to strengthen the global fight against climate change.

BRACE begins its mission in Cambodia, South Sudan, and Tonga, enhancing their education systems by constructing climate-resilient schools aligned with international safety standards. Following successful pilots, BRACE aims to expand its investment pool for greener and climate-resilient school infrastructure projects. The $70 million BRACE investment facility fills a critical investment gap, supporting countries in building safer, greener schools and empowering future generations to combat climate impacts. 

The ‘green school’ initiative underscores the holistic commitment of educational institutions to sustainability, integrating values, knowledge, and skills for social, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions. The essence lies in a comprehensive, whole-institution approach to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). These discussions emphasize the urgent need for collective action to address environmental challenges.

Moreover, COP28 heralded the launch of BRACE, a pioneering initiative confronting climate change’s threat to education. Partnering with global funds, Save the Children, and governments, BRACE’s innovative climate finance investment aims to create climate-resilient schools, shaping a safer learning environment for millions of children. As BRACE begins its mission, starting in Cambodia, South Sudan, and Tonga, it signifies a pivotal step towards building greener, climate-resilient schools and fostering sustainability in education. 


Global education – following Coop28: Bearing the Highest Cost in the Face of the Ongoing Climate Crisis

It is an unprecedented global catastrophe that millions of children find themselves displaced today, forcibly uprooted from their homes. As conflict and climate change increasingly emerge as the most pressing challenges confronting the world, the number of displaced children has doubled in the last decade alone, reaching a record high of 43.3 million children. This revelation was made in Dubai on December 9, 2023, following Coop28, where Yasmine Sherif, the Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), conveyed that children affected by conflict and climate change are the least likely to enroll in or stay in school. Consequently, they are the furthest behind in realizing their fundamental human right to quality education. Many of these children reside in the poorest and most vulnerable nations.

ECW serves as the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. Stressing the enormity of the needs and the urgency for immediate responses before the unfolding education crisis becomes irreversible, Sherif highlighted the imperative to establish climate-resilient education systems as an adaptation measure. This includes the development of climate change-proof education infrastructure to ensure the continuity of learning.


Teachers Outreach perspective

‘Greening schools: Where do we go from here?

COP28, a significant international gathering dedicated to addressing climate change, has concluded. As we reflect on its outcomes, it is crucial to consider how the insights gained, commitments made, and achievements reached during COP28 can be leveraged to propel environmental education forward. The heart of the discussion revolves around identifying pathways for the future: Where do we go from here? This section should outline actionable steps, policies, and initiatives that can be implemented to promote climate change education. It’s an opportunity to explore innovative approaches and collaborations that can foster social transformation.

Highlighting the role of schools in promoting climate change education is a key aspect.

“Greening schools” suggests an emphasis on sustainability practices within educational institutions.

This could include incorporating eco-friendly infrastructure, implementing environmentally conscious curricula, and fostering a culture of environmental responsibility among students and staff. The overarching goal is social transformation. How can education, particularly focusing on climate change, contribute to broader societal shifts? This may involve nurturing a generation of environmentally conscious citizens, influencing policy changes, and fostering sustainable practices in communities.

As educators, our role extends beyond the confines of the classroom, encompassing a broader commitment to shaping environmentally conscious individuals and fostering sustainable practices. The UNESCO’s emphasis on ‘greening schools’ resonates deeply with our mission.

From where we stand, the journey forward involves a multifaceted approach. Firstly, integrating eco-friendly practices within the school infrastructure is pivotal. This could encompass energy-efficient systems, waste reduction initiatives, and the incorporation of green spaces, creating an environment that not only educates but also embodies sustainability.

Moreover, curriculum development plays a crucial role. UNESCO’s encouragement to weave environmental education seamlessly into our teaching materials aligns with our vision of nurturing a generation that comprehends and values ecological principles. By infusing lessons with topics related to climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable living, we empower students to be active participants in the global effort towards environmental stewardship.

Collaboration is another key aspect. UNESCO’s call for innovative approaches and partnerships dovetails with our belief that collective action is paramount. Engaging with local communities, environmental organizations, and fellow educators allows us to share resources, ideas, and best practices, creating a network of support that transcends the classroom. However, the real question is, ‘Where do we go from here?’

As teachers, we see this as an opportunity to inspire change-makers. We go beyond imparting knowledge; we instill a sense of responsibility and awareness. Through projects, field trips, and hands-on experiences, we aim to cultivate a genuine connection between students and the environment.

In essence, UNESCO’s perspective on greening schools aligns with our commitment to holistic education. As we move forward, we envision schools not only as centers of academic learning but as hubs for sustainability, fostering a generation that not only excels academically but also contributes to a healthier, more sustainable planet.


Read more:

UNESCO at COP28: Making education the long-term solution to the climate crisis

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