Paris Climate 2015 – let’s also talk about education.

November 2014

Every December, for nearly twenty years, representatives of all nations have gathered to seek solutions to climate change. Twenty years in which they have been trying to agree on how to reverse the exponential growth of greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the subsequent upheavals. Twenty years in which we have, in conference after conference, dragged our feet on the implementation of an international agreement, the effects of which, will only be truly visible decades from now.
Twenty years, as it were, in which negotiators have – whatever the urgent need to reverse these trends – indeed worked toward change across one, two or three generations, each time aiming the debate at technical, economic, fiscal, diplomatic, and legislative solutions, but not addressing the most relevant agent of change over such a timespan: education. A global and robust education and training, which instead of reinforcing mind-sets condemning us to unsustainable development, would create emancipated men and women who are innovative, aware of their responsibilities and choices, and wishing to preserve our common home, Planet Earth.
In a year, France will be hosting the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Climate Change. Will history recall that an international agreement that finally rose to the challenge was achieved in Paris? We hope so, as do more than 7 billion Earthlings. But could Paris at least go down in history as the place where education was finally included in the international community’s response to climate challenges?
It’s not only a question of ecological emergency; it’s also an emergency for global security and for every stakeholder sharing this responsibility. It’s not only a matter of “saving the planet”, but of building global peace and preventing conflicts caused by growing inequalities, displacements, and resource allocation. We propose that France draws attention to this emergency through the promotion of a parallel international conference, articulated, insofar as possible, with the negotiations, under the tentative title of “Transforming education: a question of global security”.
How do we expand the basic tenets of education – literacy and numeracy – to those of the 21st Century: learning how to live in peace among 9 or 10 billion inhabitants on a finite and fragile planet? For decades, thousands of educators and humanists around the world respond through environmental, citizenship, international solidarity, health and peace education. Within and outside school systems, and using diverse approaches, they promote an integral training of the citizen, capable of better understanding global challenges and engaging more actively in long-term solutions.
However, while curricula, teaching methods and teacher-training programmes have reached maturity, the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development held in Bonn in March 2009 reminded us of how marginal their implementation remains so far. Even where considerable means have been allocated to advance methods and contents, for instance in France with its “generalization of ESD” coordinated by the Ministry of Education for years now, practical deployment on the ground constantly hits considerable structural obstacles.
Our school systems, inherited from the 19th century, are ill-prepared to work on emerging 21st century values: a collective responsibility and commitment toward a more just, peaceful, and secure world. In France, as in far too many countries, students continue to learn within education systems dominated by narrow disciplinary approaches hiding real challenges, by a disregard for the arts and the body, by the quasi-absence of collective conflict resolution and education for true democracy, by a disconnection from nature, and by the lack of external role models.
The evolution of our education systems over time has produced a structural and cultural legacy dating back to the Industrial Revolution, generally hindering rather than helping the transition into a sustainable society. They require a profound overhaul, equipping the educational response to be at par with the upheavals caused by human activity. This means working within a global, imaginative, and flexible transition framework capable of reversing emissions. Debating, on the occasion of Paris Climate 2015, the mechanisms and means to achieve this goal, will make a major contribution to the immense portfolio of sustainable development objectives re-asserted at the last United Nations Climate Summit in New York.
Recognizing the key role of education in the timespan imposed by the inertia of political and economic systems, the climate negotiations will offer an unprecedented opportunity to mainstream the transition to sustainability in our education systems. Let’s, thus, wait no longer; let’s instead reap the benefits of decades of cumulative know-how passed down by stakeholders in education for sustainable development; let’s place education squarely at the forefront of the debates and decisions of Paris Climate 2015! Let’s commit the means necessary to transform education systems and to progressively generalize, globally and through a renewed cohesive effort, an integral education centred on a re-invented solidarity, by and for all! France, along with its partners in La Francophonie, in Europe, and at the United Nations, must absolutely take on this challenge for the sake of today’s and tomorrow’s youth.