Changing people to change the earth

Learning to change is THE challenge of education for a sustainable development.

Written by Pierre Manenti, CliMates

The fight against climate change is among the greatest challenges humanity has had to face in the past millennium. Since 1992 and the Rio Earth Summit, international initiatives such as United Nations Conventions on Climate Change (COP) are increasingly participating in the active fight against this looming beast.

Despite this worldwide awareness, the consequences of global warming are increasing. It is sometimes difficult to imagine people finally limiting the global temperature increase to only two degrees as some states have pledged at the COP21 in Paris last December.

However, there are numerous reasons to hope and continue the fight against climate change. In fact, we are almost guaranteed to see amazing results if we focus on one critical success factor: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

Indeed, education occupies a fundamental role in our ability to act. Not only does it allow us to raise awareness on how our ecosystems function, analyze the effects of climate change and predict its impacts on our economy and society, it also inspires action and carries over to future responsible citizens.

Besides studying the environment or adopting sustainable behavior on an individual basis, we must also understand political decision mechanisms and their local application to make the fight against climate change a priority for everyone.

Education to environment is a matter for all generations

Today, ESD is integrated in school programs in a certain number of countries and has allowed young generations to be more aware of how and why they should respect the environment. They learn methods and innovative tools to act against climate change, such as simulations of international negotiations invented in the 20’s by American professors, known under the name of “Serious Games.”

As real diplomatic role plays, these tools allow students to replay scenes of United Nations meetings or international conferences, by putting themselves in the shoes of international negotiators. The benefits are twofold: First, these interpretations allow them to learn how international negotiations work in a playful way. Next, they sharpen young participants’ critical sense by pushing them to question how institutions function, the relevance of adopted decisions, the importance of particular players involved in the negotiations or how to improve existing systems.

This type of simulation has become extremely popular these past few years. The serious game COP in My City (CimC), simulating a UN negotiation on the climate, has been played 100 times in 2015 and allowed more than 10,000 students all over the world to become a diplomat for a day. Each exercise is followed by a talk between the organizers and the students, to share their vision of the situation and suggest concrete solutions. In November of that year they went even further; 6,000 young people gathered in Paris for COY11 (COP21 for youth) to debate on these topics. At the end, they wrote a declaration that was sent directly to the heads of many different states.

These exercises also bring back the debate on climate change to a local and territorial level. For another 2015 example, the NGO CliMates developed a project of serious game called Heat Wave in My City (HWiMC). Besides raising awareness on climate change impacts, this roleplay on managing a heatwave crisis in 2050 showed participants that acting at a local and regional level is crucial in the fight against climate change. Local institutions and people have a real power of decision when it comes to protect the environment.

This new approach gets young people invested in civic life and encourages them to become more involved, at their own level, with decision makers and decision-making bodies. It trains involved and responsible eco-citizens.

Numerous other initiatives could already be implemented to extend existing efforts to all generations. We could give young people the mission to educate adults and seniors to ESD, by organizing exercises that gather all generations at a local level (city hall, states, etc.) for environmental simulations or roleplays. This would train government staff, companies and everyone else for tomorrow’s responsibilities.

Climate change is a matter for all of us, and everyone has an ecological debt to the next generation. Thus, sustainability education has to happen no matter your age. It has to be a basis for a real, inter-generational pact of responsibility.

ESD implements green and sustainable growth

The success of the fight against climate change happens through international efforts and decisions, but mostly through the convergence of economic, financial, sanitary and moral interests. These are what allow for concrete solutions that preserve the environment.

By remembering the eternal laws of Mother Nature, mankind can change the paradigm that will mark the transition from an over-industrialized era, characterized by the exploitation of resources to the point of exhaustion, to the establishment of a green, sustainable and circular economy.

ESD must also include the rich biodiversity of our world and its incredible potential when harnessed properly. Nature is the first source of tomorrow’s economic growth. For starters, research in the fields of biological and sanitation will create jobs on their own. But the benefits linked to environmental preservation also include the emergence of new business models, new markets and other new jobs.

Tomorrow’s growth will therefore rely on a rational use of the land and its resources. Simple but often forgotten practices will regenerate our resources, such as fallows or triennial rotation that allow soil to recharge its bounties.

Medical interest in nature is also enormous: today, 50% of the medicines on the market have a direct relation to nature and biodiversity. While we’ve only discovered a quarter of the species alive on earth, we can easily imagine the potential to fight against outbreaks as we discover more; and how lifesaving cures may vanish with each species that goes extinct. Some plants still unknown could therefore be used to cure certain types of cancer or diseases that are defined as incurable. There is more to win by preserving biodiversity than by putting it in danger.

Finally, ESD will allow to implement rational business models and will see new markets and new jobs coming, profitable to everyone. Circular economy, recycling, eco-conception, eco-industries, home renovation, new climate jobs… the source of employment is limitless.

Give to each one the means to act tomorrow

From September 26 to 28 in Nantes, France, Climate Chance will gather non-governmental actors (companies, associations, citizens, etc.) from all over the world. This special event, dedicated to concrete actions to fight against climate change, will bring together international coalitions of local and regional actors for the sustainable development across our societies.

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