What aspects of education are eligible for climate finance?

With increasing funding available for climate action, how can the education sector access these resources in the context of a changing climate? What are the eligibility criteria to follow? Here are some of the answers.

November 14, 2022 by Katharine Vincent, Kulima Integrated Development Solutions
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5 minutes read
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A child wades through water on her way to school in Kurigram district of northern Bangladesh during floods in August 2016. Credit: UNICEF/UN0286416/Akash
A child wades through water on her way to school in Kurigram district, northern Bangladesh, during floods in August 2016.
Credit: UNICEF/UN0286416/Akash

The effects of climate change are ever more apparent and the education sector has not been spared. With increasing climate finance available, there are important questions for the education sector on how to access these resources to ensure sustainability in the context of a changing climate.

Various sources of international climate finance exist, including the Green Climate Fund and Adaptation Fund. There are particular criteria for eligibility for climate finance, which is a distinct source of funding from traditional development finance and specifically tackles climate-change related challenges.

Because of these criteria, it is the most direct linkages between education and climate change that offer the strongest justifications for climate finance eligibility.

There are clear and multidirectional links between education and climate change, with both direct and indirect linkages. On the one hand, climate change poses a risk to the education sector in terms of its capacity to deliver quality education. On the other hand, education has a key role to play in building the capacity to respond to climate change.

It is in this overlap that education activities would be eligible for climate finance. Direct links are those that are very clear and proximate, while indirect links have a longer causal chain, in which other factors may play a role, thereby weakening the climate link.

Climate finance opportunities for education

Climate risks to the education sector

Physical damage to buildings from floods, high winds and tropical storms is becoming more common across many countries. It is not just water and wind-related hazards: an extreme heat warning after unprecedented temperatures in the United Kingdom in July also led to temporary school closures. In many cases, the capacity to deliver education is impeded by these direct effects.

The effects of extreme weather often last long beyond the event itself. Schools and other community buildings are used for evacuation shelters in the case of exposure to extreme events.

While this is critical to save lives, repurposing facilities also means that they are not available to return to active classrooms for weeks to months afterwards, again impeding access.

In 2019, in Manicaland, Zimbabwe, tropical cyclone Idai led to 40 days of lost education due to the event itself, and further days were lost as those whose homes had been destroyed sheltered in school buildings until alternative arrangements could be made.

In addition to these direct effects on the availability of education, there are also more indirect effects of climate on the accessibility and quality of education.

Even if schools are open and functioning, climate change-induced pressures on livelihoods may cause parents to deprioritize sending their children to school. Likewise, even if teachers and children are present, their capacity to teach and learn will be inhibited if they have experienced the trauma of the destructive impacts of climate hazards, or if they are hungry or nutritionally deprived and unable to fully concentrate.

Education builds skills to respond to climate change

Education has a key role to play in building the skills necessary to enable effective climate change response. In the most direct link, climate change education increases awareness of the causes and consequences of climate change.

Specific skills training can also build a workforce able to work in green jobs that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. This may include installing renewable energy infrastructure or promoting nature-based solutions to reduce the risk of extreme events.

In addition to climate change education and specific training for green jobs, there is a more indirect link in that education has a foundational role, particularly for girls. Girls’ education and the empowerment that it brings about is strongly correlated with improvements in adaptive capacity and reduced vulnerability to climate change.

Climate finance

Climate finance has arisen under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a way of enabling support for mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global temperature increase, and for adapting to the consequences of climate change.

To distinguish it from more traditional development finance, climate finance typically requires a strong rationale for how intended activities explicitly enable adaptation to climate change, or mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Eligibility of education for climate finance

The strong climate rationale required under current eligibility criteria means that direct links between climate and education are easier to justify for climate finance.

This means that there is a stronger case for climate finance for addressing the impact of climate change on education infrastructure, and in promoting climate change education, than for the indirect linkages of quality and accessibility of education and the foundational role of education, which are better suited to traditional development finance.

As shown in the diagram, this means that a subset of overall education sector activities are likely to be climate finance-eligible.

Two obvious areas for climate finance relate to infrastructure and climate education materials.

“Climate proofing” education infrastructure means that school buildings are better able to withstand exposure to climate hazards, thereby reducing the likelihood of loss or damage.

With infrastructure modification, there is also potential to support mitigation and low-carbon development through use of materials that minimize emissions and design that optimizes the desired temperature.

The Green Climate Fund is supporting a project in Bangladesh on “climate resilient infrastructure mainstreaming,” which is developing 45 additional schools to ensure continuity of education in the context of climate exposure, considering increasing temperatures, variable rainfall, tropical cyclones and sea level rise.

Designing and distributing education materials to support climate change awareness and response is important from pre-primary through to tertiary education.

Various bilateral climate finance initiatives are focusing on this. This is typically accompanied by efforts to support appropriate skills development among teachers, so that they have the capacity to provide appropriate climate change education.

Many sector-focused projects, for example in agriculture and water resources, include elements of climate change education and relevant skills training. A Green Climate Fund project under preparation in Barbados plans to educate about wastewater reduction, reuse and recycling as part of its adaptation to decreasing water availability.

Although cases can be made for the more indirect links, they are more difficult to explain and justify under the current international climate financing infrastructure and its eligibility criteria.

Hence there are two main options for the education sector to capitalize on current climate finance opportunities. The first is to ensure that the sector is as well prepared as possible for the challenge of climate change through strengthened resilience of infrastructure so that education can continue to be delivered. The second is to ensure that appropriate climate change awareness and response skills are built.

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