(1) Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK

(2) Department of Meteorology, Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, Sweden


Lesson 1: Ancient History – (A Background to Education in the UNFCCC).
Since the UNFCCC came into force over two decades ago, it has strongly emphasised the necessity of educating and engaging with the public. This was a central point within the original text, where Article 6 of the Convention stated that Parties (i.e. Governments who have signed up to the UNFCCC) shall promote and facilitate climate change education, training, public access to information and public participation in addressing climate change at national, regional and subregional levels. This important element of international climate policy has been reinforced over the last 21 years and supplemented with work programmes which have produced additional guidance on how governments can best implement action on climate change, with support from other stakeholders.

Lesson 2: Modern History – (Recent developments concerning Education in the UNFCCC).
In the year preceding the historic Paris negotiations, educating and engaging with the public gained a lot of attention from policy makers. At COP 20 in Lima, Governments issued the Lima Declaration on Climate Change Education (UNFCCC, 2014a) which further strengthened Parties’ commitments to deliver climate change education and Article 6 was “rebranded” in June 2015, at the behest of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres as “Action for Climate Empowerment.”

During 2015, negotiations on the text which would eventually become the Paris Agreement saw references to climate change education and/or to Article 6 of the Convention come in and out of various drafts as Parties debated on its inclusion or exclusion. Eventually, with strong support from countries such as the Dominican Republic and civil society groups such as the UNFCCC’s constituency of Youth NGOs (YOUNGO) it was reincluded in the text during the last set of negotiations, prior to the commencement of COP21… though it’s survival depended on what happened in Paris.

Lesson 3: Current Affairs (What happened at COP 21).
Arriving in Paris, references to climate change education were still included in the text. At this stage there were two slightly different options on the table which required negotiation as several countries disagreed on the political and legal implications of certain words. During the first week of negotiations, which included discussions with civil society groups including youth, negotiators reached a compromise, agreeing that Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, along with training, public participation, public awareness and public access to information (UNFCCC, 2015a). This was made possible with strong leadership from the Dominican Republic, with support from countries including Japan, the United States and the European Union who wanted to reemphasise the necessity of public empowerment as the world moves forward within enhanced climate change action.

Lesson 4: Economics (Why Climate Change Education is a good investment).
Formal climate change education in schools and universities enables governments to efficiently engage with their young populations. Utilising existing institutions and established, trusted mechanisms of communication is an efficient, effective way to reach a whole generation of young people and their families, including hardtoreach groups. Inclusion of climate change in national school curricula offers governments an opportunity to engage the next generation in climate change action, fostering proenvironmental values at an early age. However, research has shown that values and behaviours are formed at a young age, so greater attention should be paid to ensuring that climate change education begins in primary schools. Social science and psychology research emphasises that knowledge alone will not lead to behavioural change, as the public also need to be equipped with the skills which will enable them respond to climate change. Formal education should therefore include skill development, which can also be supplemented with nonformal education, which research has shown to be particularly beneficial in catalysing behavioural change.

As Christiana Figueres said about Action for Climate Empowerment in 2015:
It is not only about studying climate change, but also about understanding it. It is critical to include it in curricula, but it needs to be embedded in the DNA of today’s very education concept. It is not just another course; it is about how everything else we study or do is affected by climate change. It is about understanding the transformation to be able to act on it.”
(UNFCCC, 2015b).

Lesson 4: Statistics
Since the UNFCCC text was adopted in 1992:

  • 24 years have passed
  • 21 Conferences of the Parties have taken place
  • Primary and secondary school pupils who could have been empowered to respond to climate change at that time are now in their 30s and 40’s.
  • There were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in 2015, accounting for one out of every six people worldwide. (UNDESA, 2015).
  • By 2030 the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion. (UNDESA, 2015).
  • 92 Parties to the UNFCCC have elected an Article 6 Focal Point* (*Based on a list published online by the UNFCCC, though several of these Focal Points are known by the authors to be no longer in post).

Lesson 5: Politics (What needs to happen next?)
The next step is the most difficult as it is now up to governments to implement the Paris Agreement. To walk the walk after they’ve talked the talk. Civil society can use the Paris Agreement to remind governments of their newly strengthened commitment to the importance of education and public empowerment in all climate change action. One thing which governments can do is to elect a Focal Point (a person, or even better, a team of relevant stakeholders from their education and environment ministries) with responsibility to oversee the implementation of Action for Climate Empowerment in their country. This reduces the risk of duplication of effort through overlapping initiatives from different governmental departments and/or civil society. It also helps to identify and address any gaps in implementation if certain geographical areas or sectors of society are being overlooked.

Concluding Remarks
We believe that without climate change education there would not be a Paris Agreement today. Without education, people and society would know little about climate change, its impacts and how to mitigate as well as adapt to its consequences. Without education we will not know how to respond to future challenges and to better understand the climate system of tomorrow.

Will 2016 be the year in which governments commit to meaningful, sustainable and adequately resourced implementation of climate change education at all levels? Will civil society support governments to implement this important agenda? Will the next generation be willing and able to address the challenges of a changing climate? Or will yet another opportunity be missed to upskill an entire generation to face the most pressing challenge of their lifetime?

United National Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), 2015. Population facts. [Online]. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2015. Not just hot air: Putting Climate Change Education Into Practice, UNESCO Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development in 2012/2013. [Online]. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015 (UNFCCC, 2015a). The 2015 Paris Agreement. [Online]. [Accessed 19th January 2016]. Available from: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015. (UNFCCC, 2015b). Climate Education and Training: Getting Equipped to Shape the Future [Online]. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from: http://newsroom.unfccc.int/lima/article6climateeducationandtraining/

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015. (UNFCCC, 2015c). Decision /CP.21, Terms of reference for the intermediate review of the Doha work programme on Article 6 of the Convention. [Online]. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from: https://unfccc.int/files/meetings/paris_nov_2015/application/pdf/sbi_42dt10a6_auv.pdf

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015. (UNFCCC, 2015d). [Online]. Article 6 of the Convention, Call for Submissions. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from: https://unfccc.int/cooperation_and_support/education_and_outreach/items/2529txt.php

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2014b). Lima Declaration on Climate Change Education [Online]. [Accessed 19th January 2016.] Available from: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2014/cop20/eng/l01.pdf

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2014b). Article 6 Dialogue [Online]. [Accessed 19th January 2016.] Available from: http://newsroom.unfccc.int/lima/article6climateeducationandtraining/

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 2012. Review on progress and reporting. [Online]. [Accessed 1st February 2016]. Available from: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2012/sbi/eng/l47.pdf