Lives displaced and disrupted: how climate change threatens the right to education

How to stimulate dialogue and foster partnerships to address how displacement tied to climate change impacts access to education? Key takeaways from UNESCO and UNU-IAS’ ‘Climate Change and the Right to Education’ side event at the 79th Commission Session of UN ESCAP in Bangkok.

June 13, 2023 by Chairat Chongvattanakij, UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Bangkok, and Minsun Kim, UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Bangkok
4 minutes read
CS79-Day3-Side Event: Climate Change and the Right to Education. Credit: ESCAP Photo/Cory Wright
Participants at the Day 3 Side event: Climate Change and the Right to Education.
Credit: ESCAP Photo/Cory Wright

Widely regarded as the single greatest challenge ever faced by humanity, climate change is reshaping migration patterns around the world, presaging far-reaching social, political, economic and cultural ramifications.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the year 2022 saw 32.6 million disaster-related internal displacements globally. Yet the impact of climate displacement on the right to education remains critically underexplored.

In this regard, UNESCO and the UN University-Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) jointly organized the only education-focused side event at the 79th Commission Session of UN ESCAP in Bangkok on the topic of ‘Climate Change and the Right to Education’ (watch it here). The goal? Stimulate dialogue and foster partnerships to address how displacement tied to climate change impacts access to education.

The event situated this pressing issue within the overarching framework of the evolving right to education, and explored research findings that identified current challenges and offered recommendations for a viable path forward, including a fruitful discussion of how education can make a difference to countries’ climate readiness and adaptation.

At the policy level, speakers called for greater interaction between educational, disaster risk reduction and climate policies.

At present, there is no international legal framework that would afford protection to cross-border climate displaced persons and ensure their right to education. This needs to be remedied.

One key initiative highlighted at the event was the UNESCO initiative on the impact of climate change and displacement on the right to education, which seeks to address the current research gap and provide data-informed capacity building and technical support to Member States.

Under this initiative, UNESCO will release a ‘global synthesis report’ for policymakers worldwide towards the end of 2023, featuring operational policy recommendations on how to ensure the right to education in the face of climate displacement.

UNESCO’s recent study in the Asia-Pacific region specifically reveals serious barriers to education resulting from climate displacement, including the destruction of schools, the repurposing of schools as post-disaster emergency shelters and increasing dropout rates due to climate-induced poverty.

Asia and the Pacific accounted for a staggering 80% of the total global climate displacement from 2008 to 2020, linked to country population density, rapid urbanization and distinct geographical characteristics.

Climate displaced persons commonly encounter further problems that disrupt their education: in addition to being traumatized, many face language and administrative barriers, if not outright discrimination.

From the broader perspective of lifelong learning, displaced adults generally lack opportunities for reskilling, upskilling or language learning that would help them adapt and thrive in a new environment.

It is also important to consider the impact of climate disasters on teachers to mitigate effects of climate change on education.

Teachers require assistance and training so that they can quickly resume teaching and be ready to provide psychological support to traumatized students.

UNESCO’s Greening Education Partnership (GEP) aims to make every learner climate-ready. Within the framework of Education for Sustainable Development, GEP seeks to ‘empower learners to be agents of change’ in fashioning environmentally sustainable societies. GEP leverages a strong multistakeholder alliance to catalyze action around 4 main pillars:

  1. Greening schools;
  2. Greening curriculum;
  3. Greening teacher training and education systems’ capacities; and
  4. Greening communities.

In light of findings that climate displacement further marginalizes the most vulnerable (including women and girls, ethnic minorities and people living with disabilities), the need for ‘climate-smart education systems’ is paramount.

GPE’s 7-Dimension Framework for Action identifies important entry points for mainstreaming climate considerations into education systems. These include strengthening linkages between national education, climate and disaster reduction plans; using domestic financing to support education systems to be more responsive to climate change; and leveraging international climate financing for education.

In Thailand, the Eco-School Project is a prime example of a whole-school approach to advance nature-based learning and forge connections between schools and the local community. Perhaps the key lesson is that mobilizing school communities to restore ecosystems and adopting sustainable practices could have an immense impact.

Insights gained from research conducted in the diverse Asia-Pacific region underscored that, to be effective, education for climate resilience must be tailored to specific contexts. In an aging society, for example, climate literacy should also be incorporated into adult education and lifelong learning opportunities.

The underlying message here is that education holds tremendous promise as the vital driver of climate resilience, sustainable development and thriving communities.

Related blogs

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • Global and entity tokens are replaced with their values. Browse available tokens.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.