The role of education in keeping children safe from climate disasters

Cop28 held an Education Day to emphasise the need to place children at the heart of climate action

A group of students in Pretoria with a solar-powered locomotive they built as an alternative to current electricity-powered trains used in South Africa. AP
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As world leaders gathered this month for the Cop28 climate summit in the UAE, global warming was already threatening children’s right to quality, safe and inclusive education. Extreme weather events make it increasingly difficult for millions of children around the world to complete their education without disruption. Despite this, the role of learning in climate action has so far been overlooked, with minimal climate finance on offer to increase the sector’s resilience.

Cop28, under the leadership of the UAE, presented the international community with an opportunity to protect and transform the future of millions of children in low and middle-income countries whose education is threatened by climate change.

To spur collective action that lives up to the critical responsibility of protecting children and their education, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Save the Children have committed approximately $43 million in financing from the GCF, and $23 million in grants and technical assistance from GPE.

This investment is set to address the neglect of the education sector in climate action. For years, underinvestment in education systems in climate-vulnerable countries has stunted their potential to contribute to sustainable global prosperity, security and stability. Now is the time to correct this mistake.

Across the world, one billion girls and boys – roughly half the planet’s children – live in countries at a high risk of droughts, cyclones and floods. These events wreak havoc on entire communities, destroying crops, livestock, livelihoods and vital infrastructure such as schools.

Education systems are extremely vulnerable to climate-related shocks that, according to Unicef, interrupt the learning of about 40 million children every year, a figure that is likely to rise as the frequency and severity of destructive weather patterns increase. According to the World Bank, climate change is also likely to displace more than 216 million people by 2050, disrupting the education and psychological well-being of millions of children.

But education systems can teach children about climate risks and prevention measures. Schools can shelter them during emergencies and give them the skills they need to help make their world more prosperous and liveable. A quality education can equip them with the knowledge to work for climate change mitigation, promote more sustainable ecosystem practices and develop the skills to build greener societies. It is in classrooms that children about how global warming renders the planet uninhabitable and how to mitigate and reverse its effects.

The initiative called Building the Climate Resilience of Children and Communities through the Education Sector (Brace) is managed by two of the world’s largest funds for education and climate and implemented by Save the Children. Brace seeks to make education systems in vulnerable countries greener and more resilient by building and retrofitting schools, making their operations greener, embedding climate change in school curriculums; and providing climate warnings to schools and improving early action.

Investments will initially focus on Cambodia, South Sudan and Tonga. Based on evidence and lessons from these pilot countries, Brace will expand its investment to include another 20 vulnerable nations that want to follow in their footsteps.

This kind of investment in education can lead to changes in behaviour and livelihoods that can then lead to the more sustainable use of dwindling natural resources. But financing has been scarce to make schools safer, teach children about climate change and prepare them for extreme weather.

The share of total aid allocated to education declined to just under 10 per cent in 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, down from 12 per cent a decade earlier, while funds for climate action were on the rise to 33 per cent from 22 per cent in 2013.

It was no wonder then that Cop28 held an Education Day to recognise this sector’s essential role in mitigating and adapting to the realities of climate change. We know that a quality education prepares children, families and communities to cope with adversity. It has also been shown that girls' education is the most important socio-economic factor in enhancing resilience to climate-driven disasters. Yet, around the world, 129 million girls remain out of school, according to Unicef.

For our part, the GPE and GCF have provided a funding channel to boost education and its effectiveness in preparing for and responding to climate crises.

The UAE has been generously financing both the GPE and GCF, and we count on its support to help us provide greener and more climate-resilient education to children across the world. Together with donor governments, private philanthropies and international financial institutions, we will be able to not only protect the right to education for the next generation, but also put children at the heart of climate action.

Published: December 19, 2023, 5:00 AM