An overlapping issue
The evidence is conclusive. Access to quality education is a foundational building block to sustainable development and the long-term health of the planet, particularly as it pertains to the prospects and perspective of the most marginalised children. In addition, quality education plays a consequential and positive role in effecting many, if not all, of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, what has come increasingly into focus is the extent to which vulnerable populations – especially out of school children (OOSC) – in small island developing states (SIDs) and the least developed countries (LDCs) are adversely impacted by the phenomenon of climate change.
As it happens, many SIDs and LDCs have population groups that rely on the environment for their survival, including subsistence farmers, pastoralists and coastal fishing communities. Oftentimes in such contexts, livelihoods and the economy are left gravely exposed by the ills of climate change, natural disasters, and environmental fallout. Moreover, significant segments within these population groups have low rates of school enrolment and high rates of absenteeism, due to the ensuing economic pressures that force children to assist their families by working the sea and/or tilling the land. This dynamic is only reinforced and reproduced by the frequent reoccurrence of environmental stressors and a state’s low capacity to adapt to this daunting challenge.
The complexity of the climate challenge
To that end, the United Nations has asserted that climate change:
“is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.”
What’s more, during a public plea for humanity to make peace with nature, detailing the unsparing debasement of the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems, wetlands and the prevalence of plastic waste in the oceans, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres did not mince words:
“[Climate change] is making our work for peace even more difficult, as the disruptions drive instability, displacement and conflict. It is no coincidence that seventy per cent of the most climate vulnerable countries are also among the most politically and economically fragile. It is not happenstance that of the 15 countries most susceptible to climate risks, eight host a United Nations peacekeeping or special political mission. As always, the impacts fall most heavily on the world’s most vulnerable people. Those who have done the least to cause the problem are suffering the most.”
Clearly, climate change is no longer just an environmental problem, necessitating solutions from conservationists or experts in renewable energy, meteorology and disaster risk reduction. On a global scale, it may well be the most formidable barrier to the realisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its deleterious effects have implications that span multiple sectors. The threat is real and decades of hard-earned progress, development gains and our shared future hang in the balance.
Quality education for a sustainable future
Hence, any intervention or attempt at redress requires a multifaceted, multi-sectoral strategy with the express aim of increasing access to quality primary education. Future generations, from the earliest of grades, must develop a foundational understanding of basic academics (literacy, science, maths, the arts and life skills). This needs to be combined with an understanding of sustainable human development, nature and the dangers of environmental degradation, peace and security, universal values, and quality of life at individual, family, societal and global levels.
- Educate A Child. Education and the SDGs
- UNICEF. Climate Change and Children
- United Nations. Secretary-General’s address at Columbia University: "The State of the Planet"
- Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Climate Change and Small Island Developing States