COP28: Opportunities for the education sector

We are now nearly halfway through the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai. The COP conferences are intended for governments to agree policies to limit global temperature rises and adapt to impacts associated with climate change.
Later this week, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th December, the first annual meeting of the Greening Education Partnership (a UN global initiative that takes a whole system approach) will convene at COP28. In their briefing note they state:
“It is increasingly recognised that education is crucial for addressing the climate emergency through building capacities for mitigation, adaptation, resilience, and sustainable development. Education enables learners of all ages with the agency to address interconnected global challenges including climate change, loss of biodiversity, unsustainable use of resources, and inequality” (UNESCO, 2023)
However, a recent study covering 100 countries undertaken by UNESCO in 2021, found that nearly half (47 per cent) of national curriculum frameworks had no reference to climate change. The rest mentioned climate change in their documents but this was minimal (UNESCO, 2021)
This study also identified that while 40% of teachers were confident in teaching the cognitive dimensions (e.g. the severity) of climate change, only about 20% of survey respondents could explain well how to take action.
So how does the UK education system compare?
In November 2021 (at COP26), the UK Government released their Climate Change and Sustainability Strategy for educational settings, which highlighted the need for ambitious approaches to ensure that schools and education settings decarbonise at a rapid rate (Department for Education, 2022). However, engaging in this strategy is optional and funding to back it has been limited.
Despite this many school leaders have embraced climate action, including creating student leadership teams or ‘eco-teams’ tackling a wide range of challenges ranging from improving energy efficiency, increasing biodiversity and wide-reaching active travel initiatives. At the same time, the number of students with climate anxiety (distress related to the climate and ecological crises) continues to rise (Hickman et al., 2021) and a major challenge for education is to reassure children and young people that we can still tackle climate change. However, this is increasingly difficult when the government backtracks on key policies that are in fact highly likely to delay our ability to reach net zero. Most recent examples include delaying a ban on new diesel and petrol vehicles to 2035 from 2030 and extending the ban on new gas boiler installation from 2026 to 2035 (BBC News, 2023).
In my experience, to feel empowered and help combat climate anxiety young people need to see action on climate change now, and not in the future. Al Gore is often quoted as saying, “we already have all the solutions to tackle climate change” (Al Gore, 2021); the challenge is the pace of change that is needed to scale up these solutions, and this includes our education system in responding to the climate crisis as young people are increasingly aware of the of the continuing damage that we are doing to this planet.
COP28 gives the opportunity to have an in-school discussion about the best ways that climate change can be addressed as outlined in the DfE’s Climate Change Strategy. There are several resources out there which can help teachers to do this, which were highlighted in our previous blog post.
Whether or not there is mandatory change in the UK education system on this issue, there is a need to showcase outstanding work that is taking place in schools and education settings on and around the topic of climate change. To better understand what educational establishments are doing, I am undertaking case studies which will highlight best practice of climate action in educational settings. If you would like to participate, please do get in touch

Lee Jowett is the Climate Change and Sustainability Fellow at the Sheffield Institute of Education.

Al Gore. (2021). Advancing Climate Solutions. Now. The Swain Climate Policy Series
BBC News. (2023, Rishi Sunak denies his net zero plan is wishful thinking. Retrieved 26 September 2023, from
Department for Education. (2022, 21 April). Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems. Retrieved 26/09/2023, from
Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet. Planetary Health, 5(12), e863-e873. 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3
UNESCO. (2021). Getting every school climate-ready: how countries are integrating climate change issues in education. UNESCO. 10.54675/nbhc8523
UNESCO. (2023, Greening Education Partnership | UNESCO. Retrieved Dec 5, 2023, from






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