Glasgow Paper - Climate Education

International educators have the responsibility to balance the immense benefits of IE with the acute threat of continued insufficient climate action. We can achieve this crucial balance by ensuring that climate literacy accompanies our decarbonization efforts and permeates all that we do. By introducing, or expanding, climate literacy among students, staff, partners, clients and extended communities, we amplify our climate action work while generating support, which in turn, facilitates progress. As one Leader Forum participant put it, we have the opportunity to “[t]each our species to see itself as part of nature rather than above it”. Climate literacy, especially within the framework of international education, can shift mindsets away from an extractive view of the planet toward one that emphasizes a reciprocal relationship where humans take care of the earth and it continues to take care of us.

Opportunities to infuse climate education in IE activities for students include orientations, pre-departure briefings, inbound and outbound mobility programming, and of course, integration in coursework. When preparing students for their international experience, advisors can help them consider the climate impacts of their travel choices as well as the anticipated changes in consumption between their home and host communities (Shields, 2019). Ideally, awareness of the climate impacts of their daily activities (e.g. transportation choices, diet, etc.) will influence their behavior wherever they are in the world and long after graduation. The actions and behaviors of alumni after graduation will have a greater impact than their actions and behaviors during their studies. Consequently, international educators should aim to create, or strengthen, students’ lifelong commitment to caring for the planet by embedding climate literacy throughout academic programs.

Programs developed for inbound, outbound, and place-bound students in all academic disciplines ought to center climate issues such as the implications of dwindling biodiversity, the critical role of women and girls in the well-being of entire communities (Patterson et al., 2021), and the benefits of nature-based solutions. Experiential programs can protect and restore natural carbon sinks or prevent plastic waste in watersheds from ever reaching the shore. When creating climate conscious activities, it may be helpful to adopt the Iroquois concept of considering the potential impact of our immediate actions on seven generations into the future. For example, this concept may inspire replacing a student excursion to a local shopping center with an invasive species removal activity to provide the opportunity to contribute to the long-term vitality of the land.

A growing body of research suggests that climate change has mental health implications for the general population (Stanley et al., 2021) and among international education practitioners (Campbell et al., 2021). Relationships between these mental health implications and climate action are beginning to be explored. In one study, for example, experiencing eco-anger was a predictor of greater engagement with pro-climate activism (Stanley et al., 2021). This study did not consider the role of climate education, or other interventions, in moving from eco-anger to climate action and, thus, presents an opportunity for future research. Additional research is needed to understand the role, if any, of climate education in transforming anxiety, fear, anger, and depression evoked by climate change into positive climate action among various populations. Commissioned research has an important role in advancing the sector’s collective understanding of climate change issues, implications, and potential solutions and is sorely needed.

International educators at all levels should have access to climate literacy training in order to make the important connections between social justice and climate action issues and to shift business models to fit within planetary boundaries (Drawdown, 2021). At CANIE events, it is common to hear from well-intentioned practitioners who care deeply about the effects of climate change and want to take action but feel ill-prepared to begin. A sector-level transformation requires professional development training, creation of open-access climate action materials, conferences and workshops, supportive networking opportunities, funding for climate action research, and more. Regardless of the type of organization we represent or our individual subject matter expertise, we all have important roles to play in collectively moving the sector toward true and lasting climate solutions.

Climate education actions are defined in Article 8 of the CANIE Accord.