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Change the Subject: How leaders can take action for climate education at COP26

Carron Mann

Photo courtesy of Deepti Asthana

Carron Mann

Carron Mann is the Global Advocacy and Campaigns Adviser at Malala Fund. She leads on the development and implementation of global policy change campaigns for 12 years of free, safe and quality education for every girl.

As leaders contend with the effects of global heating at the November 2021 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP26), they must not overlook one of its devastating impacts: Climate change is driving girls out of school.

In 2021 alone, climate change impacts will prevent at least four million girls from completing their education. If current trends continue, by 2025 climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year.

Yet girls’ education is a powerful strategy in the fight against climate change. Realising every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education has the potential to help communities to better withstand the effects of climate change and also reduce the rate and impact of global warming. Gender-responsive climate education ensures girls have equal access to the knowledge and skills they need to learn and lead in a world affected by climate change.

Malala Fund’s new briefing paper, Change the Subject: How leaders can take action for climate education at COP26, recommends how leaders can incorporate gender-responsive climate education in their COP26 climate adaptation, resilience and mitigation strategies to ensure every student is equipped with the information and skills they need to tackle the crisis at its roots.

Youth climate activists from El Salvador, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda helped shape the recommendations for COP26 leaders outlined in Change the Subject — including demands that leaders incorporate quality climate education for girls in their COP26 commitments and ensure young women are able to meaningfully participate in climate decision-making processes. Malala Fund is also calling on governments to end the expansion of fossil fuel energy, help lower-income countries adapt to climate change and commit to a gender-just and green recovery that centres girls’ education, gender equality and climate justice.

“My school never taught me what climate change is, what are its root causes, why it’s important and how we can play a part in stopping it,” explains Amna, a 15-year-old student in Pakistan who contributed to Change the Subject. “Over the course of 12 years of education, I never learned that I could help address the climate crisis and make an impact in my community. I believe that educators need to teach 21st-century skills in the classrooms — such as digital literacy, personal development and social entrepreneurship to ensure that the next generation of future change-makers is ready to change the world. If students discover these skills, they could address the world's most pressing problems like climate change.” 

Emerging evidence shows that climate education can help address the social and economic inequalities fuelling the climate crisis if teaching adapts to help girls and boys make personal connections to the issue, interrogate its causes and adopt new ways of thinking and being. When girls go to school, they learn the skills to overcome climate-related shocks, like the critical thinking capabilities needed to process and act on the risk of weather reports. Countries that have invested in girls’ education have suffered far fewer deaths from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of girls’ education.

COP26 provides leaders with the opportunity to commit to urgent climate action. As governments review progress against climate commitments and redouble efforts to limit global warming, they must not overlook education’s potential to reduce the rate and impact of climate change.

To learn more about the actions leaders can take at COP26 to ensure every girl goes to school and receives a gender-responsive climate education, read the full paper below.

Correction: October 8, 2021

An earlier version of this report featured a miscalculated statistic. The previous version indicated countries’ resilience to climate disasters doubles with every additional year of education that girls acquire. However, it actually increases by 1.6-3.2 points on the ND-GAIN index, which assesses a country's vulnerability and ability to adapt to climate change.

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