Preliminary text towards transition in education for COP 21

Collectif Paris Education 2015

Paris- climate 2015 : Let’s Also Talk About Education

Without reform of education systems, will societies be able to take upon themselves their responsibilities towards the future generations, the planet and the climate?

Abstract: « Let’s talk about education too« 

The climate challenge, set to be the focus of global debate at this year’s COP21 conference in Paris, should serve as a reminder that education is the principal means of bringing about change. What kind of education should we be aiming for, in order to meet the challenges posed by climate change?

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the « sustainable development » debate has reflected the widespread belief that a « better future » can only be achieved by raising awareness and educating stakeholders and the general public. This global education about the importance of sustainable development must necessarily promote the values of respect, solidarity and justice. It will need to be a lifelong education, firmly rooted in different parts of the world to pave the way for global citizenship.

In order to bring about the changes necessary, structural obstacles will need to be overcome in education systems, and ad hoc resources will need to be devoted to the educational transition. With this in mind, the education ministers invited to Paris by their French counterpart for a thematic day during the climate conference, must:

  • acknowledge and affirm the key role played by education systems in the transition towards sustainable societies
  • decide to develop the mechanisms required to accelerate this educational transition process.

The global dimension and impacts of the challenge facing the 21th Century require extensive international cooperation, political commitment and stewardship, and energy to move forward into a sustainable future. Education can shape the world of tomorrow; it is the main agent of change. So it is necessary to integrate education for sustainable development in education systems at all levels and in climatic negotiations. This text is willing to international scope, we use for the whole document the terms Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which are those listed by UNESCO. This avoids getting into the many nuances naming debate in different countries. Behind « education for sustainable development », we mean a global education project that engages all education fields: environment, citizenship, health, North / South relations, peace…


In 1992, at the Rio summit meeting and as a prolongation of the Brundtland report « our common future », the Declaration on Environment and Development states, in principle 21 : « We need to mobilize the creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and guarantee a better future ». Agenda 21, global action plan adopted following this summit , to address the challenges ahead, evokes in almost all its chapters the importance of awareness and education programs for people, enables them to participate actively in necessary changes involved, taking seriously an interdependent human future for all generations to come.

In 2002, the Johannesburg World Summit emphasizes the central role of education in building a sustainable future. A « Decade of Education for Sustainable Development » supported by UNESCO was declared. Ten years to bring the children, youth and adults in a renewed vision of the human future.

For Europe, the strategy was signed in Vilnius in 2005 by 70 countries. The preamble of this text proclaims « Education is not only a human right but also a perequisite of sustainable development and an essential tool for good governance, informed decisions and to promote democracy. « 

At the World Conference evaluation and monitoring of the decade 2005-2014 ESD in Nagoya in November 2014, the participants reiterated the urgent need to strengthen further and change scale global education. They called on governments to redouble their efforts to examine the goals and values that underpin education and strengthen the integration of ESD in educational and training policies, in partnership with everyone working in the various areas of sustainable development. They also asked them to provide education, training and professional development of teachers and other educators to successfully integrate ESD in teaching and learning.

To meet the climate challenges: what education do we want?

Today, there is concern that the Paris agreement at COP 21 be short of ambitious GHG emission reduction needed if we are to stay below two degrees average global warming, goal that the international community had adopted in Cancun. Beyond the voluntary commitments of the three fundamental levers States: the right to coerce and control; taxation, to encourage; and education, to convince and engage.

For, alongside the strictly environmental issues, alongside commitments absolutely necessary to allow states to limit climate change, the major issue is, of course, the ability of human solidarity to prevail against all egoism and all individualistic concerns. How can we not see that it is through education that we will succeed: environmental education, education for sustainable development, education for global citizenship, education to the founding values of civilization of respect for the world and other, the ability to uphold the common good, and most of all education in responsibility. Yet the common good does not emerge spontaneously: it is necessary to access it, agree to go beyond narcissism and egocentricity, we must learn to see others as similar embedded in one adventure, we must understand that we are deeply linked and that our destiny is irrevocably linked. At a time when some exacerbate conflicts, peace education and responsibility is more necessary than ever; it is an essential corollary to the ecological burst that is necessary too. Nothing would be more tragic than to miss this opportunity

Educating is to give the possibility to bring out intelligence in someone to help her choose the values and behaviors that contribute to the common good. To educate is also creating a climate of living together and to foster the personal development through collective culture.

The quest for sustainable development is multifaceted, education for sustainable development is one of its essential components.

Education for values

ESD promotes values: solidarity and respect for the dignity and human rights of all peoples of the Earth, respect for the right of future generations, respect for cultural diversity, respect and protection of the Earth’s ecosystems.

It promotes commitment to greater justice and social equity, intergenerational responsibility and transcending national borders, a culture of tolerance, nonviolence and peace. If, by itself, education is not able to allow the operationalization of all these values, it remains the central pillar of strategies to promote them. It is education that allows us, as individuals and as societies, to understand ourselves and understand others as well as the ties that bind us to our environment.

Education at school and lifelong learning

ESD is for everyone, regardless of the stage of life where everyone is. It is therefore in all possible spaces of learning, whether formal, non-formal or informal, from early childhood to adulthood. The various components of education systems and learning opportunities outside of these systems have the same goal: to adopt behaviors that promote sustainable development at personal and collective level, to give everyone, young and old, the ability to make decisions and to take action to solve the problems that threaten our common future, particularly climate change.

ESD, because it answers a multifaceted quest, cannot be under the exclusive responsibility of schools. Partnership with civil society is needed. Governmental and non-governmental organizations, associations, the economic sector, the cultural sector and the media, should be partners … to promote the development of better information and training of citizens who are asked to make decisions whose impact affect future generations.

Education in the heart of a locality

Engage school involves both an interdisciplinary approach, linking knowledge and practical commitment in projects, an experience learning responsibility. The training « by the concrete » implies rooting educational programs in a context, a territory, which implies a shared responsibility with the local public authorities, educational institutions, youth and other local actors (companies, public services , associations, academics …) in its design and implementation. If the school introduces learning, the territory allows its development, its illustration or its implementation in the framework of joint projects with local partners in and outside school hours.

There can be no sustainable development without the young being in contact with their natural, cultural, economic and social environment ; it is the only way that they will subsequently be able to de-contextualize their acquired knowledge and skills and thus use, wisely, learning acquired in a spirit of responsible citizenship.

Education for global citizenship

Now, at the beginning of the third millennium, humanity in general has never had so many material and human resources at its disposal. And yet, disturbances are legion and worldwide, from north to south and « bad » development patterns can be seen everywhere. Threatened and threatening as this world has become, no-one can be in doubt that another sort of world is desirable. But what sort of world? With what sort of mainstream organization? Obeying what central principle of coherence? Each and everyone of us will become aware of the problems and want to act according to his or her own intellectual, religious or ideological principles and personal sensitivity. But where to start? What priorities? Who must and who can do what? How is it possible to encourage a real international solidarity in the perspective of building equitable social and economic relations as well as sustainable development worldwide?

Priorities and actions will, of course, be decided according to local needs. In order to learn to live together in the « global village » we must be able to live in our natural communities of belonging. The preferred training ground is the one on which we can act daily, namely its own territory. Without the understanding of our own territory and without the feeling we belong to it, , it seems indeed illusory to believe in an ability to adhere to the choices involving the planet.

It is an educational act, policy, anchored in a shared value: solidarity between partners of relations among all climate realities. Promoting planetary citizenship is a political act, using education to promote a shared value: solidarity between partners decided to act together for transformation of relations between people and with regard to climatic reality facing the planet today

Educating globally and everywhere

This is to introduce to the complexity of the real as an ethical problem, understand it, grasp the connections, interactions, transforming a fact of interdependence in a desired solidarity.

There are experiments and experiences all over the world that are making the necessary transition towards sustainable societies, a real tool serving to rethink the content and methods of both instruction and social organization. They are proving that hands-on action, in one’s own social sphere and situated in local reality, is the best way of fighting against the feeling of helplessness when faced with ecological disasters due to climacteric disturbances.

Many of those teaching according to humanistic principles, via numerous and varied approaches – transversal, systemic, participatory, within and without school establishments – are promoting the integral training of citizens capable of better understanding the global challenges facing us and engage in building long-term solutions.

These pioneer teachers are not only working in their respective subjects alongside their, pupils, students, colleagues and other partners in projects backed by the educational community, but also widening their view with interdisciplinary collaboration, including various strata of organisation within their respective establishments. They are questioning our modes of life based on consumer behavior and the permanent in satisfaction of material desires, rather than needs, in a world invaded by advertizing, generalized obsolescence, luxury goods, futile spending and products harmful for our health.

Far from ad hoc actions which change nothing radically, they are there to de-code and avoid the traps set by the dominant competitive model as it is construed in schools, countries and world-wide. Those who opt for profit and cost-efficiency and choose high productivity as the only worthwhile motives, do it to the detriment of co-operation, human dignity, solidarity, autonomy, diversity, responsibility, equity, justice and conflict-resolution. Such educators experiment with inventive teaching devices which bring reality close-up and help develop alternative studies, projects and actions able to bring us out of the crisis and embrace new concepts based on respect for our planet and our future generations.

Questions of power and authority are being questioned on an institutional level, by those concerned, including directors, parent associations and other connected partners, pupils and teachers; other interpersonal relations are being examined so that everyone may speak and be heard, acknowledged and respected in their respective role and responsibility.

Young people able to benefit from this form of education enhance those human qualities so necessary for building a peaceful future and so sought for in the present-day working world: sense of responsibility, capacity for team-work, ability to take initiative, global approach to problem-solving, skill for using different sources to serve a common project.

An educator’s responsibility is to make it understood that it is possible to be critical without being pessimistic and that change is always a working option; he or she needs to feel a sense of legitimacy, whatever the region or country, to accompany the preventive action undertaken towards climate change via education.

To meet the climate challenges: how to organize educational change?

In the education field to act up to the necessary transformations, among other with respect to climate change, the global community must commit to scaling up change in two directions :

  • on one hand, by generalizing inclusive quality education for all wherever it may be lacking
  • on the other hand, by changing the education systems and inserting sustainability into their structures, practice, methods and content

To achieve this, we need to :

Lift structural obstacles subsisting within the educational systems, which, by virtue of their history, their structures and their culture, condemn sustainability to a peripheral role. In fact, the present narrow approach to the various disciplines, fragmented knowledge unable to help the young discern the issues at stake, the banishment of many artistic and corporeal activities, the almost complete absence of collective conflict-regulation and democratic practice, the separation from nature and the rarity of outside examples, means that our educational structures allow very few systemic approaches based on the project and derived from experience..

Devote the necessary means to the educational transition. Over the next decades, world economy will involve continued greenhouse gas emission in the atmosphere. Global taxation for fossil energy at the source and the creation of fossil energy territorial quotas are the chief means of accelerating the ecological transition, by both increasing the cost of the most polluting activities and by redistributing amounts collected for the benefit of adaptation or reduction policies, thus making the problem contribute to its own resolution. Some part of those taxes need to be devoted to education.

To meet the climate challenges: What commitments of educational policies at the COP21?

The Ministers of Education meeting in Paris at the occasion of the Climate Conference, and in conjunction with their governments, must:

Acknowledge and underline the importance of the role of education systems in the transition towards sustainable societies.

Decide to build the mechanisms necessary for the acceleration of the educational transition by devoting a significant share of the proceeds of taxation and carbon trading.

Create national and international legislation in order to share the revenue generated by GHG emissions.

To do this it is appropriate to establish :

National plans for Education for All and the educational transition.

These will include:

  • systems adapted to whatever local context in order to guarantee basic education for all, in which the 20th. century fundamentals – reading, writing and counting – will be widened to those of the 21st. century – living together in peace on a unique and fragile planet with limited resources
  • the transformation of schools, universities, informal education centers into « non-carbon zones » thanks to construction investments for insulation, renewable energies, consumer-intake and wastage reduction, food, gentle mobility etc., following action-orientated ESD programs (Agenda 21 for schools, Eco-schools etc…)
  • a long term and resolute strategy to remove one by one the institutional and cultural obstacles to a generalization of these new modalities of education. Creating spaces time to reinforce interdisciplinary dialogue and work, relationships with external partners : public and private sectors, associations, companies, political figures, universities.
  • ensure initial and ongoing training for all stakeholders so as to place sustainability at the centre of education systems and practices, in all sectors and at all levels.

Global funds for educational transition under a joint governance United Nations/international civil society supported by:

  • new solidarity mechanisms (or the improvement of existing ones) financed by carbon taxe revenues, in order to achieve inclusive and quality education objectives for each and every one in all countries, particularly the most vulnerable.
  • the setting up of an « Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Educational Transition » (IGEET) in conjunction with UNESCO and devoted to a census and synthesis of planetary knowledge and know-how concerning educational transition. It will aim at an advisory role for the governments and will comprise the most talented researchers as well as method and tool developers. It will favor the exchange of good practice, not only for teacher-training but also for all stakeholders engaged in educational projects.

This large-scale transformation will take time and will involve profound upstream evolution in teacher training and others associated. Ministers and public authorities are responsible for the long-term implementation of these changes. To these ends, they will commit to founding an international bank in Paris to archive experience and experiments along two complementary axes: pilot experiments and obstacles encountered concerning their diffusion and change of scale. Furthermore, they will implement a annual « audit » of their progress and difficulties.

The Paris Conference mandates both UNFCCC and UNESCO to co-construct, throughout the year 2016, alongside institutional stakeholders and civil society, the technical and legislative modalities for the implementation of educational transition measures in view of their adoption at COP22.

In conclusion

The aim of ESD is to give citizens the means to work towards the improvement of their environment and social relations. It represents a vision of education in quest of equilibrium between humans and economy on one hand and cultural traditions and respect for the planet’s resources on the other.

In order to reorient education with the perspective of viability, it is necessary to realize that classical categories can no longer remain isolated from one another and that it has become obvious that action must be placed at disciplinary interfaces in order to apprehend the complexity of present-day global problems, and climate change in particular. This is true within the education system and between the different spheres of education, work and leisure, to the extent that the concept of lifelong education emerges as one of the keys to the developmental proces of education itself.

To stay inline with sustainable development, education must not only be continuous through life but also be as multifaceted as life itself, for the benefit of all. It must draw on academic knowledge as well as traditional know-how, without forgetting permanent apprenticeship in all walks of life.

Debate about the means and measures for the transformation of education systems at the Paris Climate 2015 event will be an immense contribution to the great sustainable development project reaffirmed by the United Nations last year at the New York summit meeting on climate change.