Focusing on the controversies of events like COP27 misses the point: We need to act now to combat climate change

As a young woman from Nigeria, this is what I’m doing to ensure children have more access to climate change education

The hosting of COP27 (Conference Of Parties) in the green city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the thirty years period, the world has come a long way in the fight against climate change and its negative impacts on our planet; we are now able to better understand the science behind climate change, better assess its impacts and effectively develop tools to address its causes and consequences.

The ‘Conference of Parties’ this fall was an opportunity to showcase unity against an existential threat that we can only overcome through concerted action and effective implementation of targeted policies towards the mitigation of climate change.

And yet, too much of the media narrative focused on what went wrong or what more could have been done. I too had my concerns during the event—I wanted more active participation from women of color and underrepresented nations—like my home of Nigeria.

But, in spite of that, I was excited that the 27th edition of COP was hosted in my continent. We are particularly vulnerable to the wrath of climate change and we need to have a stronger voice in the mitigation of it.

On the ground at COP27

The 15th of November marked the ‘Youth Demand Quality Climate Education’ COP27 ACE Day session, and I had the opportunity to speak as a panelist and a Technovation Youth Representative. Technovation is a non-profit that empowers girls ages 8-18 worldwide to create apps and programs that impact their communities. It fuses tech education with entrepreneurship. That organization is the reason I’m so passionate about and actively involved in the fight against climate  e.

The COP27 session gave other panelists and me the opportunity to capture the demands of young people on their vision of quality climate change education and compile ideas from key stakeholders to translate youth asks and demands into concrete actions, particularly into curriculum guidelines for policy-makers and educators.

The panelists’ experiences were quite similar, and my key takeaway from the panel discussion was the important role climate education will play in mitigating further effects of climate change and the benefit of climate education in developing countries like mine. The mission to educate starts at the local level but is a global challenge.

Systemic issues with climate curriculum worldwide

Climate curriculum doesn’t exist in many rural communities like mine. I grew up in a village in Nigeria (Gwari village Mpape Abuja) located 769.7 km from Lagos, where there simply is no curriculum dedicated to this topic. That’s detrimental to our collective future. It’s hiding some of the most important lessons our youth need to learn right now. Education curriculum in schools results in millions of hours spent learning and thinking about issues. There is a missed opportunity if we’re not teaching children the right things.

Schools that are addressing environmental concerns too often fail to focus on the most pressing issues. For example, many schools talk about recycling plastic. However, that’s just No. 36 on a list from Project Drawdown of 90-plus strategies to reduce heat-trapping gases.

This issue isn’t limited to a handful of nations—it’s unfortunately a systemic issue. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change, 70 percent of middle school and 55 percent of high school science teachers in the U.S. don’t recognize the scientific consensus on climate change. That means a majority of children in one of the most affluent nations are facing an uphill battle when it comes to climate curriculum.  

Importantly, two things are missing from the curriculum that addresses climate change. First, there’s not enough of an emphasis on technology. A lifelong learning mindset coupled with the right tech training will be key to our collective resilience. And, two, there isn’t a real focus on complex systems thinking and understanding. We have a lot to learn from indigenous knowledge and understanding in this regard.

How I’m making a change to close the gap: 3D visual representation of climate change

As part of my contribution during COP27, I shared my experience and the gap I faced in learning about climate change as a student, and my current challenges as an educator and climate activist. I also suggested the implementation of a curriculum that incorporates the needs of young people that I’ve been researching and developing with my team. 

This curriculum I’ve been researching on is called “Visual Expository” and it is going to be a 3D visual representation of how climate change occurs.

This method is based on a project where the cause and effect of climate change are built and demonstrated on physical platforms (programmable and touchable). In this way, the cause and effect of climate change are visualized and seen as they are happening, giving learners the opportunity to physically witness the cause and effect of climate change play out in front of them. I believe that this will not only help connect the youths mentally and emotionally to their environment, but will cause users to also consider their actions and how they influence the environment, and the curriculum’s presentation will give the viewer a comprehensive experience in an engaging and educational way.

Additionally,  incorporating VR and AR into real projects will give students immersive and reflective learning opportunities, making climate change education more enjoyable, solution-based, and action-oriented.

Why we need synergy across all stakeholders

Without synergy across all stakeholders, from governments and relevant educational agencies to private corporations to support youth demands, the people pushing initiatives at COP will continue to see similar challenges everytime we gather. You can’t have lasting progress with a piecemeal approach to solving the problems we face.

Young people have the power to mitigate the effects of climate change, but there’s no way we can get involved if there’s no climate education incorporated in schools, and educational institutions.

Nonprofits can lead the way and collaborate with government and educational institutions to push for climate curriculum in classrooms worldwide. This will help young people understand and relate to climate change and cause them to have a behavioral change in the way they see and treat their environment.

The impact will be significant for society as a whole. According to research shared by Brookings, if only 16 percent of high school students in high- and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a nearly 19 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050.

Let’s do all we can, together, to implement more useful climate change into classrooms worldwide—from rural Nigeria to New York City and everywhere in between.

About the author:
Maryam Bello biography

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