University of Reading: Curriculum Of Climate Change Can Help Youth See Through ‘Greenwashing’

Young people must be empowered to see past climate action ‘greenwashing’ during their time at school, or be left vulnerable to being fooled by ‘half measures’, a House of Lords member will argue in a speech today (Wednesday 15 September).

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, will tell attendees at a major summit on climate education that incorporating climate change into all parts of the school curriculum will help people spot when governments and big businesses are not being genuine about sustainability.

Youth campaigner Josh Tregale, who is campaign coordinator for Mock COP and Teach the Future, in the same session will also call for a step change in climate education to equip the next generation with the skills they need to be part of the process of finding solutions to environmental and sustainability challenges that lie ahead.

The two speakers are joining young people, leading scientists, education specialists, journalists and policymakers at the virtual Climate Education Summit, hosted by the University of Reading and high-profile partners, and attended by COP26 President Alok Sharma MP. It aims to develop an action plan to improve climate education in schools.

Baroness Brown, a crossbencher in the House of Lords, was a speaker in the first keynote plenary session to open the Summit. She said: “Future generations will live in a world where the impacts of climate change are more obvious than they are today, and where sustainability needs to be visible everywhere they look. All climate scientists would argue that it is time for action not words, and we will have failed our children and grandchildren if major changes to society have not occurred by the time they are adults.

“We have already seen how efforts to make these changes have encountered opposition from those that favour the status quo, whether for reasons of ideology or for profit. Yet this opposition is sometimes hidden behind public positions, announcements and publicity stunts that have the appearance of progressing sustainability but in reality are anything but.

“Today’s young people must be equipped with the knowledge to see through corporate ‘greenwashing’ and distinguish the lies from the truth. A society that is incapable of spotting empty gestures and half measures when they are presented will be unable to hold businesses and authorities to account and encourage them to do the right thing.

“Power and profit is part of our society, but we cannot allow vested interests to pull the wool over the eyes of the next generations when it comes to climate action.

“Making climate change a core part of the education of all young people, across all school subjects, would empower teachers to help pupils develop into the kind of adults who know what genuine action on climate change looks like, and have the confidence to take action themselves and to call out anything that falls short.”

Mr Tregale will say: “During my time in the education system there have been some great examples of when teachers have included climate and environmental topics in school projects or lessons. An image I saw in primary school of how many football fields of forest are cut down every second was staggering and has stuck with me.

“Although this experience, and others, were powerful, they were solely down to the teacher at the time. The current education system puts it on the shoulders of teaching staff to add this crucial content and it leaves it patchy and irregular across schools and even classes.

“The tragic consequences of climate change we are already seeing around the world make this a humanitarian issue of the upmost importance. It is crucial young people are educated and can learn about climate change to galvanise them to be a generation of solution-makers.”

The Climate Education Summit is being held in partnership with the Met Office, Office for Climate Education, Royal Meteorological Society, the EAUC – Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, and climate change charity Ashden. COP26 President Alok Sharma will also attend the event.

The organisers argue that the UK will struggle to take action on climate change unless more effort is made to help the next generation understand the issue and feel empowered to respond.

Climate change is currently only mentioned a handful of times on the national curriculum, and does not feature for any subjects except science and geography. Surveys of teachers by climate education campaign group Teach the Future showed that 9 out of 10 teachers agree that climate change should be compulsory in schools, yet only 3 out of 10 feel equipped to teach it.

Baroness Brown will argue at the Summit that it should be embedded in every subject, and will give examples of how this could be done.

The Climate Education Summit keynote plenary sessions are open to the public and free to attend, while invited guests will discuss the gaps in current climate education in schools and how changes can be made in closed sessions during the day.