The role of children as climate change educators is often overlooked in policy – but it can play a significant role.
A new initiative, presented to Mexico’s Congress, hopes to insert climate change education into the national curriculum for schools.
Our younger generations of children and adolescents are key actors who must be taken into account when creating public policies to tackle climate change.
In a previous article published here, I argued that by strengthening the teaching of this issue in classrooms, children become empowered as agents of education about climate change – and this drives greater participation by their family. I explained how, in this way, children can help their parents to make changes in their behaviors and to live more sustainable lifestyles. Nevertheless, the educative role of children is often overlooked in environmental politics.
Since then, I have been working ceaselessly to persuade government officers to make climate change education a part of the national curriculum. Most of those I approached refused the call, except one – a Mexican Senator named Clemente Castañeda Hoeflich. Together, we have been working on an initiative to include climate change education in every classroom in Mexico.
On 17 June this year, Hoeflich presented an initiative to Mexico’s Permanent Commission of the Congress of the Union – the Federal Government’s standing committee – that we have been working on. It proposes strengthening the curricula on environmental protection and climate change in schools, encouraging students to change their attitude and behaviour in order to protect natural resources.
The initiative aims to amend Mexico’s General Education Law in the following ways:
1. Using all its scope, education must contribute and extend its benefits to sustainable development and environmental protection.
2. For the integral human development of students, education should include raising awareness of the climate emergency and modifying their attitudes and behaviours around caring for the environment.
3. One of the purposes of education should be to encourage the adoption of practices and lifestyles that contribute to mitigating climate change and protecting the environment.
4. The curriculum should help students to acquire the knowledge necessary to assess environmental dilemmas and problems, with the aim of preparing them to face the challenges of climate change and to adopt sustainable lifestyles.
Why is climate change education necessary in Mexico?
According to the UN, the impacts of climate change in Mexico could lead to an increase in rain and tropical cyclones and intensify droughts across the nation – and could consequently aggravate inequalities in health, employment and access to food. Similarly, USAID has reported that Mexico’s unique geo-climatic context makes it especially vulnerable to climate change, which would increase the country’s exposure to frosts, heat waves, tropical cyclones and floods. Moreover, Mexico’s risk landscape is exacerbated by its ageing infrastructure and environment-dependent tourism industry.
As well as Mexico’s particular vulnerability to the effects of climate change, it is also –according to the UN – the world’s 13th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. For this reason, structural changes are important, such as the one proposed here for the educational model.
In order to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce vulnerability, different organizations have pointed out the importance of climate change education as a long-term solution. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), in an educational initiative called ‘Subete’ (‘rise up’), explains how to empower children and young people and educate them on climate change, and how this will help to achieve viable, sustainable and long-term solutions for the effects of climate change. Furthermore, building on UNESCO’s work, IADB has highlighted the importance and fundamentality of education in responding to climate change challenges; it helps people understand and address the impact of climate change, increases ‘climate literacy’ among young people, encourages changes in their behaviour, and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends.
Basic education programmes in Mexico do promote caring for the environment, but this is only a general approach to the problem. These programmes don’t cover raising awareness about environmental problems and the effects of climate change, or promoting changes in attitudes and behaviours while protecting natural resources. Those elements, it has been argued, must be an essential part of developing educational programmes about climate change.
UNESCO, meanwhile, has also stressed the importance of encouraging the international community to adopt climate change education in order to ensure concrete actions for our planet and a sustainable future – and furthermore, that people’s understanding about what climate change is and how to act upon it it is central to enacting political regulations and financial and technological incentives related to climate change.
The work that both I and my organization, Sin Planeta B, have been doing has already impacted more than 6,000 children, and – it is estimated – more than 15,000 people more widely.
If the initiative is approved by the government, Mexico will become the first country in Latin America to ensure its children receive a proper and official education in climate change. Moreover, climate change education programmes will create empathy and will encourage society to act in the service of creating a better world.