Curriculum Perspectives

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 67–71 | Cite as

What Is Climate Change Education?

  • Robert B. Stevenson
  • Jennifer Nicholls
  • Hilary Whitehouse
Point and Counterpoint


This article addresses the questions of what and how educators should teach and how students might be engaged to learn in preparation for an uncertain future arising from the risks and the human and ecological impacts of climate change. Relevant literature is briefly reviewed on student and teacher understandings of climate change and conceptions of climate change education as education for preparing students for future climate change mitigation and adaptation measures and the potential for disaster. Opportunities in Australian schools for teaching climate change mitigation and adaptation are critically examined. Climate change should be understood as a complex social as well as scientific issue characterized by uncertain and context-specific knowledge. This demands educators engage in inquiry and co-learning with students. The lack of time and the reported curriculum opportunities to address climate change in the classroom suggest a need for using co-curricular and community initiatives for student investigations and learning. Teachers must encourage students to think critically and creatively about approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation and develop their capacity to respond with meaningful actions.


Mitigation and adaptation Disaster risk Uncertain knowledge 


  1. Adger, W. N., Huq, S., Brown, K., Conway, D., & Hulme, M. (2003). Adaptation to climate change in the developing world. Progress in Development Studies, 3(3), 179–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, A. (2010). Combating climate change through quality education. Retrieved from
  3. Anderson, A. (2012). Climate change education for mitigation and adaptation. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development., 6(2), 191–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance (AESA). (2014). State of education for sustainability report and final report for phases 1–3 education for sustainability and the Australian curriculum project. Melbourne: AESA Scholar
  5. Bangay, C., & Blum, N. (2010). Education responses to climate change and quality: Two parts of the same agenda? International Journal of Educational Development, 30(4), 359–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boon, H. J. (2016). Pre-service teachers and climate change: A stalemate? Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(4), 39–63.Google Scholar
  7. Cameron, C., & Norrington-Davies, G. (2010). Children and disaster risk reduction in Asia and the Pacific: A way forward. Discussion Paper presented at the High-Level Meeting on Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region, 4–6 November 2010.
  8. Climate Change Authority (CCA). (2012). Targets and progress review. Chapter 2 science and impacts of climate change. Canberra: CCA Scholar
  9. Commonwealth of Australia Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2015). National innovation and science agenda.
  10. Dawson, V. (2015). Western Australian high school students’ understandings about the Socioscientific issue of climate change. International Journal of Science Education, 37(7), 1024–1043.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dillon, J., Stevenson, R., & Wals, A. (2016). Introduction to special section: Moving from citizen to civic science to address wicked conservation problems. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 450–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donnelly, P., & Wiltshire, K. (2014). Review of the Australian curriculum final report. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education Scholar
  13. Fahey, S. J. (2012). Curriculum change and climate change. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(5), 703–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fahey, S. J., Labadie, J. R., & Meyers, N. (2014). Turning the titanic: Inertia and the drivers of climate change education. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 6(1), 44–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Glasser, H. (2007). Minding the gap: The role of social learning in linking our stated desire for a more sustainable world to our everyday actions and policies. In A.E.J. Wals (Ed.), Social learning: Toward a more sustainable world (pp. 35–61). Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Gonzalez-Guardiano, E., & Meira-Cartea, P. (2010). Climate change education and communication: A critical perspective on obstacles and resistances. In F. Kagawa & D. Selby (Eds.), Education and climate change: Living and learning in interesting times (pp. 13–34). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2014). Climate change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva: IPCC.
  18. Kagawa, F., & Selby, D. (2010). Introduction. In F. Kagawa & D. Selby (Eds.), Education and climate change: Living and learning in interesting times. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  19. Kahan, D. M., Jenkins Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011). Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Krasny, M. E., & DuBois, B. (2016). Climate adaptation education: embracing reality or abandoning environmental values. Environmental Education Research, 1–12. Published online 16 June 2016.Google Scholar
  21. Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2007). Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Global Environmental Change, 17(3–4), 445–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lotz-Sisitka, H. (2010). Climate injustice: How should education respond?. In F. Kagawa & D. Selby (Eds.), Education and climate change: Learning and living in interesting times. 71–88. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. McBain, B. (2016). Let’s not play chicken with the future. Herding the Green Chicken (blog) 17 August 2016. Newcastle, NSW: University of Newcastle
  24. McKeown, R., & Hopkins, C. (2010). Rethinking climate change education. Green Teacher, 89, 17.Google Scholar
  25. Mochizuki, Y., & Bryan, A. (2015). Climate change education in the context of education for sustainable development: Rationale and principles. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 9(1), 4–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moser, S. C. (2010). Communicating climate change: History, challenges, process and future directions. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1(1), 31–53.Google Scholar
  27. Nelson, D. R., Adger, W. N., & Brown, K. (2007). Adaptation to environmental change: Contributions of a resilience framework. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 32(1), 395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nicholls, J. (2016). Understanding how Queensland teachers’ views on climate change and climate change education shape their reported practices. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Cairns, Australia: James Cook University.Google Scholar
  29. Ojala, M. (2012a). Hope and climate change: The importance of hope for environmental engagement among young people. Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 625–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ojala, M. (2012b). How do children cope with global climate change? Coping strategies, engagement, and well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(3), 225–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ojala, M. (2015). Hope in the face of climate change: Associations with environmental engagement and student perceptions of teachers’ emotion communication style and future orientation. The Journal of Environmental Education, 46(3), 133–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. O’Neill, S., & Nicholson-Cole, S. (2009). “fear Won’t do it”: Promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations. Science Communication, 30(3), 355–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Orr, D. (2004). Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  34. Robottom, I., & Hart, P. (1995). Behaviorist environmental education research: Environmentalism as individualism. Journal of Environmental Education, 26(2), 5–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Salter, P., & Maxwell, J. (2016). The inherent vulnerability of the Australian curriculum cross-curriculum priorities. Critical Studies in Education, 57(3), 296–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stevenson, R. B. with Stirling, C. (2011). Environmental learning and agency in diverse educational and cultural contexts. In R. B. Stevenson & J. Dillon (Eds.) Engaging environmental education: Learning, culture and agency (pp. 219–38). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), & United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). (2011). Climate change starters guide book. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  38. Wals, A. E. J. (2011). Learning our way to sustainability. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 5(2), 177–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Whitmore, J. (2016). Public support for climate action on the up after dark days: Climate Institute survey. The Conversation. 26 September 2016.
  40. Wisner, B. (2006). Let our children teach us! A review of the role of education and knowledge in disaster risk reduction. Inter-agency task force Cluster Group on Education and Knowledge.
  41. Wolf, M., & Moser, S. C. (2011). Individual understandings, perceptions, and engagement with climate change: Insights from in-depth studies across the world. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2(4), 547–569.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Australian Curriculum Studies Association 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert B. Stevenson
    • 1
  • Jennifer Nicholls
    • 1
  • Hilary Whitehouse
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Research and Innovation in Sustainability Education (cRISE) and College of Arts Society and EducationJames Cook UniversityQueenslandAustralia

Personalised recommendations