On Friday 5th November, we saw the opinions of over 40,000 young climate leaders presented to ministers, negotiators and officials; all of whom are calling for less talk and demanding more action,  to protect their futures. In recent years, the voice of the global youth has become increasingly powerful, and this was no exception with day 5 of COP 26, focussing on youth and public empowerment.

Underlying the notion of empowerment sits the discussion of education; a topic that dominated talks throughout the day.

360 action for COP26. It isn’t all about the blue.

As the core theme was all youth and public empowerment, the day was co-chaired by YOUNGO, the official children’s and youth constituency of the UNFCCC, who opened with a session called ‘Unifying for Change: Global Voice at COP26’. YOUNGO called for social justice to be at the heart of all decision making, whilst outlining their statement and priorities to Ministers, which included action on climate finance, mobility and transportation, through to wildlife protection conservation.

This opening statement made the agenda for Ministers of Education simple – Recognise the critical role played by education in the transition towards a climate positive future and ensure that the infrastructure exists to equip everyone with the knowledge, skills, values and attributes required to combat climate change. With this aim in mind, Ministers met to examine how inter-ministerial cooperation can enhance socio-economic transformations to bolster climate resilience based on the recognition that climate change is unequivocally linked to human influence.

To ensure that these conversations were purposeful, the empowered youth met to discuss topics such as meaningful youth leadership, policymaking for future generations and the power of film and media. All sessions held outside of the Blue Zone were there to remind delegates that the decisions made during the fortnight of COP26 will impact the lives and the futures they lead.

Changing the system to empower future generations 

Kickstarting the conversations, the UK and Italy in partnership with UNESCO, Youth4Climate and Mock COP coordinated new global action to equip future generations with the knowledge and skills required to create a net zero world. In support of this, the UK continued its drive to be a leader in the Green Industrial Revolution, with the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, announcing the UK’s draft Sustainability and Climate Change strategy. This “whole-system” approach aims to equip and empower young people with the skills that they need to drive the future of climate action.

This strategy supports the UK’s bid to be the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. The draft strategy takes into consideration earlier commitments made by the UK, through addressing 1) Climate Education, 2) Green Skills and Careers, 3) The Education Estate, 4) Operations and Supply Chains. This approach inspired other education ministers from South Korea, Albania and Sierra Leone to do the same.

The conversation surrounding the UK’s commitments neatly coincided with negotiations on Action for Climate Empowerment, which aimed to set the direction on climate education and public empowerment. As a result, Education Ministers from 23 countries put forward impressive climate education pledges with the aim to develop and decarbonise the education sector.

Are these commitments bold enough?

The actions made by delegates demonstrates a commitment to the future of society. It is easy to overlook the importance of the role education plays in our struggle to limit warming to within 2°C, as it does not provide an immediate tangible result. However, the long-term value that actions made to empower youth and the public to create a net zero world cannot be downplayed.

Whilst the announcements were as expected, the challenge will be in delivering the commitments in conjunction with others made throughout COP26. If done well, and done thoughtfully, the implementation of such strategies outlined by the UK will enable the socially just transition that young climate leaders are asking for whilst developing the UK’s resilience.

Educational institutions cannot be considered as entirely separate entities

However, this concerted effort to upheave the current status quo in educational institutions needs to be an aligned effort with businesses and wider societal structures. The commitments are heroic, but they will not come to fruition if other societal structures do not empower the youth of today to engage with a Green Industrial Revolution. It is this piece of the puzzle that appears to be missing from the discussions on Day 5 of COP. Educational structures cannot be considered an entirely separate entity to wider society and nations around the world need to consider a true “whole-system” approach if we are to catalyse a transition to a network of responsible societies.

Education is a key piece of the puzzle in building a resilient future

Education may not seem to be the golden ticket for putting the brakes on climate change. But adapting the educational framework to provide everyone with the knowledge, skills, values and attributes required to combat climate change is an unquestionable part of ensuring a resilient future. In closing, the activities of Day 5 truly exemplified the unstoppable force that are the young climate leaders of today. Such actions personify the profile of the empowered youth, driving home the importance of empowering the public of today and the future generations to come.

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