Climate Action

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| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Climate Change and Education

  • Pablo Ángel Meira CarteaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-71063-1_27-1
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Definition

Climate Change Education (CCE) is a specific area of Environmental Education aiming at designing and developing educational responses based on informed decisions intended to be effective in the context of the climate crisis. This means such decisions must be coherent with the objectives of mitigating greenhouse gasses and with the need to adapt to the inevitable consequences of a changing climate. CCE must incorporate a sense of social and environmental urgency and emergency stemming from the temporal inertia of human-induced climate change and of its long-term systemic, complex and unpredictable consequences on the biosphere and sociosphere. In this respect, CCE must include Climate Literacy among its tools, but it must go beyond that, given that there is no time for the best available scientific knowledge on climate to imbue the entire society and all societies as a precondition for avoiding the worst future climate scenarios foreshadowed by science in the absence of a significant civilizing change.

Based on these premises, CCE must adopt perspectives related to civic education and to a pedagogy that is critical towards the current model of production, distribution and consumption of energy, goods and services. The objective is to ease the transition towards sustainable societies and communities, with a fairer and more equitable distribution of environmental burdens and resources. The main CCE short- and medium-term challenges are: turning this threat into a socially relevant and significant problem; involving people and social groups in actions aimed at decarbonizing daily life, especially in more developed societies; fostering citizen participation in the policies to combat climate change; and facilitating social adaptation and resilience to the inevitable consequences, especially in the societies that are most vulnerable due to their geographic location or socio-economic weakness.

Introduction

Climate change is the main social and environmental challenge faced by humanity in the twenty-first century (UNESCO 2010). The latest IPCC Report (2014a) finds that it is real and indeed happening. The report also establishes that the main causes for the abnormal alteration of the climate are the emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) associated with the intensive burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The scientific community warns that we are in a critical moment to avoid the worse climate scenarios projected for the end of the century (IPCC 2014a; Rockström et al. 2017; Figueres et al. 2017). If humanity continues down the same path, the biosphere will be an increasingly hostile place for our species.

Especially in more developed societies, it will be no easy task to inform and raise awareness among the population of the fact that this reality will increasingly condition human life, and of the need to implement technological, socio-cultural and economic transformations on par with its threat potential. The change in the global climate is no longer avoidable, the inertia of the climate system prevents it. But it is possible to reduce GHG emissions to a threshold that allows a safe and decent human life. Similarly, it will be necessary to adopt strategies for adapting to the alterations that will inevitably occur, as well as for reducing the vulnerability of human communities in the face of the biophysical and social impact of the ongoing changes.

The Paris Agreement (UNFCCC 2015) set this threshold at limiting the temperature rise to +1.5 °C or +2 °C by the end of the century. To achieve this goal, the signatory countries had to develop mitigation and adaptation policies taking into account their differentiated responsibilities in the causes of this issue, their socio-economic circumstances and their specific vulnerabilities in the face of climate change, conditioned by factors such as their development level, cultural identity, or geographic location.

In this situation, making the transition towards low-carbon societies is not an option, but rather an ecological, ethical, and social imperative for survival. The transition requires a structural change in energy patterns, which implies abandoning our dependence on fossil fuels. It also calls for a redefinition of the current forms of exploitation, transformation and distribution of natural resources and environmental burdens in order to adjust human civilization to the ecologic limits of the biosphere, and to do so according to criteria of equity and justice.

The ecologic transition will involve profound changes, especially in the more developed societies, which will force us to deconstruct and redefine the dominant modes of production and consumption. It is apparent that such an objective cannot be reached solely through technological and economic innovations. It will be necessary to foster a cultural change where the citizens assume a protagonist, active role: as the driving force behind the transition, aware of the threat potential of the climate crisis, demanding and supporting adaptation and mitigation policies on different levels (local, community, regional, global); on the other hand, as an agent of change, by adopting consumption habits and lifestyles that are consistent with the reduction of the individual and global carbon footprint. Education, both formal and informal, must play an essential role in this process of change, a role it has still to begin to play.

The Urgent Need for Climate Change Education

Objective number 13 of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN 2015) explicitly states this challenge: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Of the 17 objectives of the Agenda, this is the only one that explicitly calls for an “urgency” to act. This is no minor detail. The demand for an urgent response to the climate challenge has to do with the structural and systemic nature of the threats it entails and the physical inertias that project it further into the future if effective responses are delayed. Acting in the present will determine our ability to meet the other 16 objectives of the Agenda on a medium and long-term basis. An increasingly warmer climate would make it difficult, if not impossible, to appropriately meet basic human needs (food, water, health, freedom, equality, safety, etc.), especially in the case of more vulnerable groups. On the contrary, a controlled climate would increase the likelihood that the biosphere be a welcoming and safe place for all humankind. The inertia of the climate system, together with the inertia of a humanity that is unable to modify its course, would sentence us to the worse scenarios that institutions such as the IPCC (2014a) project for the future.

Among the goals that constitute Objective 13 of The 2030 Agenda, goal number 13.3 points out the necessity to “Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning” (UN 2015, p. 23). From an educational point of view, goal no. 13.2 is of no less importance, given that it stresses the necessity to “Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning,” a proposal that must set the ground for the cross-cutting integration of the climate crisis in all areas of political action, including educational and communicative policies. Education must contribute to mitigate the problem and reduce the vulnerability of people and communities faced with the consequences of climate change (UNESCO 2010, 2016).

The 2030 Agenda associates Objective 13 to the development of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN 1992) as the main international and intergovernmental frame in order to achieve a consensual response to the climate crisis. Article 6 of this convention expresses the necessity to include, in the policies of response to climate change, programs of “education, training and public awareness,” with two specific lines of action: one aimed at creating “public awareness” on the climate threat – at a time when this was irrelevant in the public agenda – and another recommending the integration of climate change into every country’s educational and formative system.

Despite appearing in the text of the UNFCCC (UN 1992), the educational responses to the climate challenge have been limited, poorly structured, and devoid of a solid political, theoretical and methodological underlying frame. Their presence has been marginal both in climate policies, and in educational policies. This shortfall can be linked with a similar difficulty in reaching a consensus about an effective global agreement on reducing GHG emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, for instance, left out any reference to including educational activities. The omission of the educational dimension from international climate policies is officially corrected in the Paris Agreement, which states in Article 12: “Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement” (UNFCCC 2015, p. 10). As it can be observed, its text sums up Article 6 of the UNFCCC (UN 1992), except for calling for education as a tool for fostering public participation in the national plans designed for the enforcement of the agreement. A great part of the practical implications of this article remain to be defined. Each signatory country is to design their own adaptation and mitigation policies in order to align the evolution of their GHG emissions to global goals that might allow maintaining the Earth’s average temperature below 2 °C by the end of the century. Given that the Agreement will not enter into force until 2023, it is to be expected that each country, according to their circumstances and vulnerabilities, will integrate the educational dimension in the adaptation and mitigation policies they design, as well as integrate the climate crisis among the priority goals of the national educational policy.

Contrary to other socio-environmental problems that call for an institutional educational response, the urgent need to begin reducing emissions must turn the climate crisis into a priority educational topic, up to the point of thinking about implementing an “emergency curriculum,” both nationally and internationally, in order to raise awareness about the severity of the threat and to contribute to a massive and quick response. (Miléřa and Sládek 2011; Heras 2014; Henderson et al. 2017; Allen and Crowley 2017). “The climate emergency,” states Whitehouse (2017, p. 64), “is more than a socio-scientific topic to be investigated, however effectively (…). The climate emergency is a real condition that has current and direct impact on babies’, children’s, and young people’s lives. This means climate education, in its many forms will, by necessity, shortly move towards the centre of curriculum practice.” Not only do we need to place climate change at the center of the curriculum, but also, we need to reinforce educational resources that do not belong to the formal education system, by activating social learning systems, as suggested by Heras (2014), and by creating peer-to-peer knowledge networks in order to involve all kinds of public to take action against climate change.

Response time is, now more than ever, a main educational variable in the manner in which societies are to react to the imbalances between human systems and the biosphere. We cannot go on repeating naïve speeches that attribute to education in general, and to environmental education in particular, the mission to pro-environmentally socialize the new generations in the hope that they will not commit the same mistakes that have caused the present crisis. The transition towards a climatically viable future will not be possible unless it is initiated now, in a socially cross-cutting manner, and by involving all generations. The strategies, programs and educational resources aligned with climate policies must address all population groups, but must priorities groups of adults who, through their activity as producers and/or consumers, as well as through their role as citizens or decision-makers, can be crucial for fomenting or hampering climate policies. As suggested by Henderson et al. (2017, p. 4), “What ought we, as educators and researchers, do? The first thing is to see clearly that employing education as a social change lever, and educational settings as sites of socialization toward alternative futures, is our strongest suit.”

Climate Change Education or Climate Literacy?

Climate change education must go beyond climate science literacy. Climate literacy is a branch of scientific literacy that has become prominent in the last decade, as climate change started to become substantial in the scientific and public scene. In a meta-study on the use of this concept in educational research, Azevedo and Marques (2017) examine 22 documents published between 2007 and 2013 that attempt to clarify what climate literacy is, and conclude that it is an open concept, subject to debate. For Dupigny-Giroux (2008, 2010, 2017), “Climate literacy involves a deep appreciation of the complexity and interconnectedness of the climate system over space and time; the role that humans exert in modifying and interacting with the climate system; the ability to ‘act accordingly’ having understood the above; and the recognition of bias or the change in behavior due to insights gained about an issue or concept” (Dupigny-Giroux 2017, p. 1). As can be noted, the author links the area of scientific knowledge about the “climate system” – not specifically about climate change – with the acquisition of competencies to act in coherence with that knowledge. This nuance separates it from the simpler literacy approaches linked to theinformation deficit model, although it continues to assume that scientific knowledge is necessary for responsible action to be possible.

Another widely used definition is the one proposed by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP 2009, p. 4): “Climate Science Literacy is an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society,” also stating that “A climate-literate person: understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system, knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate, communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.” This conceptualization reflects more clearly the widely held belief, also among the scientific community, that access to scientific knowledge, in this case about climate change, entails a pro-environmental response on the part of literate people. This belief is based on the assumption that environmental problems are attributable to a deficit in the scientific culture of the population, leading to the belief that one way to address these problems is to extend scientific education so that people can analyze and rationally evaluate their behavior and, therefore, avoid contributing to the causes of such problems. Azevedo and Marques (2017, p. 414), for example, highlight that “In most developed countries, there is a substantial consensus about the importance of a scientifically literate population for democratic processes in a society that is more and more technologically demanding.”

This approach to climate literacy is limited for two reasons. The first is that psychological and educational research shows that, in general, there is no direct relationship between a higher level of scientific knowledge and the development of pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; Wibeck 2014; Hemple 2014; Arto et al. 2017). Without questioning the fact that in democratic societies there may be a positive correlation between the level of scientific literacy of the population and their civic commitment (Azevedo and Marques 2017; Stevenson et al. 2014; Carvalho 2011), research such as that of Drummond and Fischhoff (2017) stresses that personal stance towards socially controversial scientific questions, such as climate change, far from being clarified, is even more polarized among people who have a higher level of studies. Azevedo and Marques (2017, p. 416) admit that it is necessary “to be cautious as a high climate literacy may not directly translate into adaptation to climate change’s unavoidable effects or mitigation of its causes.” As other research shows, more than the level of climate literacy or level of education, the main conditioning factor of personal and collective judgements, attitudes and behavior in the face of the climate crisis are variables such as cultural or religious identity, experiences with weather phenomena, ideology or party militancy (Stern 2016; Hornsey et al. 2016). This observation is even more relevant if we take into account that most of the climate literacy programs focus on contents related to the biophysical dimensions of climate and the climate system, ignoring or marginalizing social (psychological, sociological, anthropological, ethical, etc.) dimensions, which tend to be, moreover, the most relevant to understand how people connect their lives with significant aspects of climate change. In other words, a high level of scientific literacy does not necessarily translate into an awareness of the threats associated with climate change, and even less in individual or collective behaviors consistent with mitigation and adaptation goals.

The second reason is a pragmatic one. Given the urgency needed to make the transition towards decarbonized societies, there is not enough time to reach climatic literacy levels among the population that could guarantee, if this were the case, the awareness and change of behaviors and lifestyles that are dominant nowadays. The climatic emergency demands immediate changes in which all societies and all people must be involved, regardless of the greater or lesser knowledge of climate sciences they possess. Climate literacy is necessary and will have to be fostered, especially in higher education and in forming social agents (technicians, professionals, decision-makers) whose leadership will be strategic in making the ecological transition; and also within the framework of primary and secondary education, by expanding the presence that the climate crisis has in curricula and educational materials (national curricular designs, textbooks, complementary teaching resources, etc.), and by incorporating it into the initial and ongoing training of teaching staff. But climate literacy will not be enough.

Climate Change Education must go beyond climate literacy understood as the mere educational transposition of the science available on the climate and its anthropic alteration. The educational response to the climate crisis must be oriented towards action for transition and social change. To paraphrase McKeown and Hopkins (2010), from the whole “climate change” equation, education (especially within the framework of formal educational systems) has so far paid more attention to the “climate,” as a representation constructed in the field of natural and physical sciences, than to the “change,” seen as a concept that refers to the social and economic trajectory that has led humanity to this crossroads. A critical and global understanding of the “change” necessarily involves other fields of knowledge, from the social sciences (economics, sociology, anthropology, geography, etc.), to the humanities (philosophy, ethics, etc.). Shwom et al. (2017, p. 377) call to overcome this decompensation: “Climate literacy programs have traditionally promoted education on the biophysical science of the climate system but have largely failed to integrate relevant knowledge from the social sciences. We argue that understanding human behavior and the social drivers of climate change are essential for the public to fully appreciate the climate system, and that this knowledge can inform decision making related to climate-change mitigation and adaptation.”

The imbalance between the biophysical and the social dimensions in the construction of the scientific representation of climate change does not only affect the educational field. The very trajectory of the IPCC shows this decompensation. The first four reports of this organization focused on analyzing and assessing the best science available in order to answer two essential questions: whether climate change is real and whether it is being caused by human activity.

In their affirmative answer to these questions, the IPCC has essentially resorted to the natural and physical sciences. The only social science with obvious weight in the first reports of the IPCC was economy. There is a simple reason for this: apart from delimiting the problem from a bio-physical point of view, it is necessary to assess the economic costs of climate change, as well as of the mitigation and adaptation alternatives. Only the latest IPCC report (2014a), the most conclusive on the severity of the climate crisis, takes into account the role that other social sciences should play in assessing the dangers that threaten humanity and, mainly, in the design of possible alternatives; that is, it takes into consideration the question of social change and the alternatives that can guide it (IPCC 2014b). Chapter 3 of the IPCC Group 3 Report is an obligated reading in order to understand the relevance of social sciences in the construction of a complex representation of climate change as a challenge for humanity. It is in this precise chapter where we can find a very clear and operative prescription of the role that education must play regarding the climate crisis: “The task of an educational programme in mitigating and adapting to climate change is to represent a collective global problem in individual and social terms. This will require the strategies for disseminating scientific information to be reinforced and the practical implications advertised in ways that are understandable to diverse populations” (Kolstad et al. 2014, p. 256). This statement fails to allude to the processes of ecologic transition and decarburization that the educational activity should foster, according to the responsibilities and vulnerabilities of each society regarding climate change, as well as the theoretical, ethical and methodological foundations that might help to cement this action pedagogically (González-Gaudiano and Meira 2010). In the following section we offer some observations regarding this issue.

Climate Change Education: Basic Principles

Henderson et al. (2017) speak of a “climate silence” in research and in educational theory, which they interpret as a subtle form of denial, which does not question the existence of the problem, but also does not give it the social relevance it really has. For these authors, the educational response to climate change requires a pedagogical project that transcends the limited areas of environmental education and scientific education, to which it has been confined until now. To this end, they call for the creation of an agenda with a view to placing climate change in the front line of research in all educational subdisciplines: the design of spaces, curricular studies, civic education, educational policy, didactics, research on the teaching-learning processes, etc. The role that the education sciences must play in responding to the climate crisis will also have to observe an inescapable ethical commitment: “Doing nothing, as we as educational professionals have mostly done about climate change, will at minimum make us complicit accomplices, and at worst, servants to environmental oppression and ultimately death. What is needed is a renewed commitment to the form of educational justice appropriately scaled to the size of the challenge we face” (Henderson et al. 2017, p. 417).

Even recognizing this deficit, there is sufficient literature in the field of education sciences and social sciences to outline a minimal theoretical-methodological foundation that might allow articulating increasingly effective educational programs and resources to respond to the climate challenge. Given the limitations of space, the issues considered here are the management of uncertainty and the social relevance of climate change, the management of the emotions it generates and the curricular integration of climate change.

Managing Uncertainty and Relevance of Climate Change

One of the most surprising patterns detected by the studies on the social perception of climate change is the persistence among the population of high levels of uncertainty regarding the image that science projects of said issue. Climate change deniers make up important percentages of the population in few societies, although the presence of climate change denial is important in key countries from the climate point of view, such as the United States or China (Capstick et al. 2015; European Commission 2017). The belief that climate change is real and is due to human activity is a majority view in practically all societies, and tendencies show a general increase (Capstick et al. 2015). But this acceptance is accompanied by a perception of high levels of uncertainty with regard to the level of consensus among the scientific community on this matter, a doubt that is unfounded (Cook et al. 2016). It is also accompanied by a low relevance of the climate change among the issues that people consider as most important. The Spanish society is a good example of this paradox: 9 out of 10 people believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity; however, 5 out of 10 do not see a consensus on these matters among the scientific community, and only 1 out of 10 considers climate change to be an important global problem, while being completely absent from the agenda of the most important local or national issues (Meira et al. 2013). How can these paradoxes be explained? What are the challenges that they represent for education? Social research points to some answers which, combined, outline a complex socio-cultural scenario that educational practice must consider:
  • Climate change denial acts insidiously, taking advantage of the counterintuitive nature of climate change and its scientific complexity, in order to cast doubt among the public perception with respect to its existence and threat potential. The excellent study by Oreskes and Conway (2010) reveals the strategies that climate change denial has been using in order to maximize its social influence.

  • Epistemological uncertainty is inherent to the scientific method. The construction of a “scientific truth,” particularly in the case of extremely complex objects such as climate change, is subject to uncertainty levels that stem from possible information gaps, unpredicted interactions between the elements that compose it, limitations in interpretation, etc. A “scientific truth” is always provisional. The latest IPCC report (2014a) quantifies the level of certainly that climate change is real and caused by human activity as 95%; the remaining 5% represents uncertainty. When epistemological uncertainty is projected upon society, it may cause insecurity and foster the belief that science questions the nature or severity of the problem. Such socially perceived doubts justify inaction (we will have to wait until these issues are clarified in order to act…), reinforces messages of climate denial and relegates climate change to a secondary place, far from socially urgent issues. Faced with the language of uncertainty, education must use the language of risk and prevention, stressing the urgency to act in order to avoid the worst consequences of a phenomenon that is real and gradual (Heras and Meira 2014; Heras 2014).

  • Research on the social perception of climate change also shows that people tend to perceive it as a problem that is remote both when it comes to time (it is believed to affect future generations), and when it comes to space (it is believed that it affects or will affect others). This psychological distance has an unmotivating effect and justifies postponing response actions. One of the great challenges of Climate Change Education is bringing the problem nearer to areas that are significant to people, both from the point of view of theirvulnerability to its impact, and from the point of view of their responsibility for its causes and, as a result, of their responsibility for the search for answers in the way of mitigation and adaptation. Didactic instrumentalisation of the relations between climate change and vital areas such as health, food, safety, justice, equality, housing, etc., may help reduce this psychological breach.

Managing Emotions Within Climate Change

Another variable to be considered in the educational treatment of climate change is the role of emotions in its social representations and judgements (Smith and Leiserowitz 2014; Heras et al. 2018). Conventional approaches to climate literacy tend to ignore this dimension and focus educational action on the scientific contents and cognitive processes related to learning.

Nevertheless, the emotional burden of the issue, shaped by its threat potential and by people’s self-perceived effectiveness with regards to their ability of doing something as a response to this threat, is the key to their readiness to take on an active part within the framework of adaptation and mitigation policies. Climate change is usually presented as a global and complex problem, whose causes and consequences evade to a great extent the space in which people or communities can take action. Faced with a threat that is presented as severe, but, at the same time, as unmanageable and distant, the feelings that tend to emerge are a fatalistic combination of fear and impotence: as an “I” (or “us”), anchored in a specific time and place, people may feel that their action is irrelevant faced with the magnitude of the problem and with the possible solutions which, indeed, must reach a global scale in order to be effective. Studies on the social representations of climate change speak of a state of “over-determination,” a mixed emotion that combines fear, guilt -or a feeling of accountability- and impotence, which usually has a paralyzing and demobilizing effect (Höijer 2010; Smith and Joffe 2012; Heras et al. 2018). Henderson et al. (2017) warn that when an educational action generates a fatalistic emotional climate, most of the people involved, both learners and educators, feel overwhelmed and tend to adopt escapist attitudes and behaviors, selectively ignoring the threat and taking refuge in everyday routines. Much of the difficulty in placing climate change at the center of personal and collective agendas has to do with the weight of these negative emotions. As stated by Kelsey and Armstrong (2012, p. 190), “an educational movement that leaves its participants in despair, hopeless, [and] immobilized by dread (…) is neither morally defensible nor likely to lead to sustainability outcomes” (quoted in Henderson et al. 2017, p. 417).

To avoid demobilizing pessimism, research suggests that it is necessary to stimulate self-sufficiency and empowerment at an individual and collective level, showing and putting in practice adaptation and mitigation alternatives in the school and community contexts in which the educational action is contextualized (Wibeck 2014; Allen and Crowley 2017). As Heras (2014, p. 59) expresses, “knowing the solutions (and putting them in practice at different possible levels: personal, school, community) makes it possible for us to stop seeing climate change as a depressing issue with no way out and begin to conceive it as a formidable social challenge faced with which it is possible to intervene” (our parenthesis). Educational centers and programs must become alternative public spheres where to test and experiment with alternative practices that facilitate the transition to a low-carbon society, without ignoring the cumulative effect that these changes may have at the macro-social level. It is important not to forget that global GHG emissions are, ultimately, a consequence of the sum of multiple specific actions, so billions of alternative actions also have a positive cumulative effect on the global GHG balance.

Climate Change Education in Inter- and National Curricula

Educational policies must be aligned with the strategies of transition towards decarbonized societies, resilient in the face of the consequences of climate change. In this regard, national curricula, at all educational levels, must incorporate climate change in all its dimensions, from the biophysical to the social and the political. The universalization of education makes the path through the education system an opportunity, often unique, to connect people with the threat of climate change and with the alternatives to address it. The school experience can and should be transformed into a context in which to transpose the best available science on the climate crisis so that the population understand and better value the threats that we face, the responsibilities that we have, and the alternatives that we can use to build socially in order to avoid an infernal climate (UNESCO 2010, 2016).

The international curricular panorama, however, does not reflect the environmental and social importance of the climate challenge. A study carried out by the International Bureau of Education on the presence of climate change in the national curricular framework of 78 countries reflects that only 35% of the total includes the topic “climate change” in the text (IBI 2016, p. 19). Another issue is the treatment that climate change receives when included as educational content. Curriculum research on this issue is not abundant. In general, it is possible to point out that climate change is usually linked in curricula to the natural and physical sciences, which pay close attention to its processes, causes and bio-physical consequences. The human, ethical and social dimensions of the climate crisis receive little attention, nor are mitigation or adaptation actions usually contemplated (Kagawa and Selby 2012; Serantes and Meira 2016; Colliver 2017; Chang and Pascua 2017; Monroe et al.). Issues such as ecological transition or decarburization are absent from official curricula. Faced with this situation, Whitehouse (2017, p. 64) argues that it is necessary to shift climate change “to the center of curricular practice.”

How to advance along these lines? The timing of the crisis forces us to act diligently and without delay. The available literature offers some clues. Monroe et al. (2017) perform a meta-analysis of educational experiences in order to identify replicable aspects that might allow designing more effective actions. This study formulates six main recommendations: focus the educational practice on contents that are relevant and meaningful for the target population; use attractive and active teaching-learning methods; generate dynamics that facilitate debate and argumentation in order to explore the controversies surrounding the climate crisis; design activities that allow interaction with scientists linked to climate science; take into account students’ misconceptions and beliefs about climate change and use them as a foundation to build the learning experience; and develop at the community level projects and school experiences on climate change.

To these recommendations, two complementary curricular development lines could be added: the first is the incorporation of the climate crisis and the ecological transition as fundamental contents in the processes of initial and ongoing teacher training; the second is the incorporation of the environmental and social complexity of climate change into standardized didactic materials, mainly school textbooks, given that they continue to be the most commonly used didactic resources for content mediation in education systems.

Future Perspectives

On November 4, 2016, once the requirements established in the previous year in the French capital had been fulfilled, the UN declared the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, until 2023 the main part addressing the assessment of national agreements for its implementation will not be applied, including, as can be supposed, the parts addressing the enforcement of Article 12 of said Agreement regarding the activation of measures with respect to climate change education and public awareness. It might be expected that, in less than 2 years’ time from that date, most States, especially most developed ones, would already have established, on the one hand, ambitious programs in order to place climate change mitigation and adaptation on the list of priority curricular objectives of their respective educational systems, and, on the other hand, a “nonformal” agenda of civic and environmental education that might allow efficiently and universally reaching sectors of population situated outside the school setting.

This does not seem to be the case, though. Educational actions related to climate change remain on the sidelines of educational agendas, through secondary programs, unambitious if we are to consider the scope of the socio-ecologic transition that must be urgently undertaken. At the same time, there is no social research agenda, in general, nor an education research agenda, in particular, that might foment this process of urgent educational action; at least, there isno such agenda with the scope and ambition of the research agenda in the field of natural s ciences and technology (Meira et al. 2018). It might be said that it is expected that the scientific objectivation of the issue and the implementation of low carbon technologies will have a positive social effect. Nevertheless, this will not simply happen, especially if the messages on climate change reaching the population are dampened by problems perceived as more urgent, both on an individual and on a collective level, although the very consequences of the human-induced climate change (poverty, desertification, migratory processes, conflicts over the control of natural resources, etc.) are precisely the cause of their becoming more severe.

It is expected that by 2023, when the Paris Agreement enters into full force, educational strategies on different levels should be implemented in order to align the educational responses with adaptation and especially with mitigation policies. It is in this matter that the responsibility of the countries that produce the most historical and current GHG emissions becomes particularly relevant, both in terms of their objective responsibility in causing the problem, and in their ability to finance and foment international educational agendas that might seriously address the ecological transition process and the contradictions this causes with respect to the objectives of the market economy. This will be the main political and social challenge and, thus, the main educational challenge in order to attempt limiting global temperature rises to 2 °C by the end of the century.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Group in Social Pedagogy and Environmental EducationUniversidade de Santiago de CompostelaGaliciaSpain

Section editors and affiliations

  • Anabela Marisa Azul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Neuroscience and Cell BiologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal