Greening Education: Education Paying Highest Cost For Ongoing Climate Crisis

It is a global catastrophe of astounding proportions that millions of children are on the run today, forcibly displaced from their homes. As conflict and climate change increasingly become the most pressing challenges facing the world now, the number of displaced children has doubled in the last decade alone, reaching a record high of 43.3 million children.

Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), says that conflict- and climate-change-affected children are the least likely to enroll in or stay in school and are therefore the furthest left behind when it comes to fulfilling their basic human right to quality education. Many of these children are in the poorest and most vulnerable nations. ECW is the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

Stressing that the needs are enormous and responses must be immediate before the unfolding education crisis becomes irreversible, Sherif emphasized the need to build climate-resilient education systems as an adaptation measure, including climate change-proof education infrastructure that will ensure learning continuity.

ECW’s Executive Director, Yasmine Sherif, addressed delegates over the urgent need to fast-track solutions for crisis-impacted children during the RewirEd Summit plenary session. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

“More than 62 million children—nearly one-third of the 224 million crisis-affected children worldwide in need of educational support—are also affected by grave climate-induced disasters. We have issued an urgent appeal for US$150 million in new funding to respond to the climate crisis. We must act now with speed, for in the face of human suffering and the destruction of our planet, patience is not a virtue,” she said.

Awut Deng Acuil, South Sudan’s Minister of General Education and Instruction, brought the situation there more into focus during an ECW side event on the designated day for education. It was the first time in the history of the COP Summits to have an entire day dedicated to the education agenda, reflecting the strong interconnection between the climate crisis and the global education crisis.

An estimated 70 percent of school-aged South Sudanese children have never set foot in a classroom, and only 10 percent of those who enroll complete primary education. This is one of the worst completion rates globally. As South Sudan faced multiple challenges over many years, a girl in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary education.

“There are parts of South Sudan that are completely flooded. I have never seen water that comes and never recedes. You hardly see any land. A week ago, I visited Unity State to assess the impact of climate shocks, and I saw many displaced families. At least 40 percent of schools are flooded and have remained closed since 2021. Before the pandemic, we had 2.3 million children in school; today, we have 2.1 million children out of school. For those still in school, the ratio is 120 students per teacher,” she said.

“To get to school in these areas, children and teachers walk along dikes—barriers built to hold back water—and despite the risks, they are running out of options. Some of the schools are inaccessible for rehabilitation. For those that can be rehabilitated, we use boats to transport rehabilitation material.”

But as the country was picking up its pieces through a peace agreement that has provided stability and normalcy, climate-induced disasters have exacerbated barriers between children and education, rolling back time by derailing access to education.

Sherif said ECW and South Sudan’s education ministry will not recoil from the imposing challenges and have a strong partnership to push the education agenda forward, appealing for additional donors to meet a funding gap of USD 25 million to fully implement the ECW-supported Multi-Year Resilience Programme in the country. She added that the needs are increasing as the conflict in Sudan pushes children out of their homes and into South Sudan.

“Since 2020, we have supported partners in improving access to quality, inclusive education for children and adolescents and increasing retention rates in South Sudan. ECW’s funding focuses on the most vulnerable ones, including girls, internally displaced children, and children with disabilities. Interventions range from covering school fees, reaching students remotely, training education personnel, and implementing child protection pathways in schools. This holistic education must be urgently scaled up to reach all crisis-impacted children,” Sherif emphasized.

Ole Thonke, Undersecretary for Development Policy, Government of Denmark, reiterated Denmark’s commitment to resolve the climate, conflict, and education crises, as they are all different sides of the same coin. The country has announced a new additional USD 6 million pledge to ECW to support the delivery of quality education to vulnerable children and youth at the forefront of the interconnected crises of climate change and conflict, with a particular focus on girls and adolescent girls.

In pastoral communities such as Kenya and the larger Horn of Africa belt, girls are particularly at risk. As the climate crisis threatens to paralyze pastoral economies, families who have lost their livestock are increasingly marrying off their young girls. Current education systems are not equipped to handle the spiraling effects of the climate crisis. In fact, delegates heard that education systems as they are currently structured can only harness 35 percent of the value, talent, and potential nestled within each child—the gift of undiscovered human brilliance.

The side event was held within the context of the RewirEd Summit, which focuses on rewiring learning for green skills, green jobs, and the green economy and ensuring that acquired skills match the needs of current markets and the world’s most pressing needs.

“Since the first RewirEd Summit, we have worked very hard to follow through on the commitment we made to elevate the role of education as the most powerful and valuable opportunity for human development. We needed to bring education to the heart of all these challenges and leverage its potential to offer solutions. We are here because of one of the greatest challenges of our time: if we do nothing about climate change, it will affect the entire future of our planet,” said Dr Tariq Al Gurg, CEO and Vice Chairman of Dubai Cares.

Dubai Cares hosted the second RewirEd Summit to encourage dialogue and action to put education at the forefront of the climate agenda. The one-day summit brought together ministers, high-profile speakers, and panelists from UN agencies, climate actors, international NGOs, academia, marginalized communities, indigenous populations, teachers, and youth, as well as representatives from the public and private sectors from around the world.

“It cannot be business as usual; as long as we keep education confined within outdated, unambitious, and broken systems, we will continue to be in a vicious cycle where for every step forward we take, another pandemic, climate disaster, or conflict will set us back again, if not even further away from our goals to help people as well as the planet. The only way forward is to recognize that the pathway to meaningful progress towards 2030 and beyond must be through positioning education at the core of every single Sustainable Development Goal,” said Reem Al Hashemi, UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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