Not only have climate scientists agreed that humans are contributing to climate change, but recent evidence also points out that the rate of warming is happening much faster now than it ever has before. This is why, at the UN Climate Conference in Paris this month, world leaders are seeking to reach a new international agreement on climate change, essentially to keep global warming below 2°C (or 3.6°F). Rising temperatures pose threats on food and water security, infrastructure, ecosystems and health and, as a previous blog on this site shows, increases the risk of conflict. With an upsurge in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and the potential for rapid sea level rise, both mitigating human-related exacerbation of climate change, and adapting to its devastating effects are key priorities. This is where education comes in.
Both mitigation and adaptation require technological, institutional and behavioural responses. Correspondingly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the value of a mix of strategies to protect the planet, which combine policies with incentive-based approaches encompassing all actors from the individual citizen, to national governments and international communities. Because, while national and sub-national climate action plans are fundamental, changing individual behaviour also lies at the heart of responses to climate change.
At the individual level, barriers to the adoption of mitigation and adaptation measures include a lack of awareness and understanding of climate change risk, doubt about efficacy of one’s action, lack of knowledge on how to change behaviour and lack of financial resources to implement changes. Accordingly, there are many sound reasons to assume that different education strategies can help overcome these barriers both in direct and indirect manners.
First, directly formal schooling is a primary way individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and competencies that can influence their mitigation practices and adaptation efforts. Schooling provides a unique environment to engage in cognitive activities such as learning to read, write, and use numbers.
As students move to higher grades, cognitive skills required in school become more progressively demanding and involve meta-cognitive skills such as categorization, logical deduction and cause and effect. This abstract cognitive exercise alters the way educated individuals think, reason, and solve problems. Indeed, experimental studies have shown that higher-order cognition improves risk assessment and decision making. These are relevant components of reasoning related to risk perception and making choices about mitigation and adaptation actions.
By Raya Muttarak, Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW and WU), and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria.