Higher education must play a key role in raising awareness about climate change, Arab academics told Al-Fanar Media in conversations just a few weeks before COP28, the United Nations climate-change summit, is scheduled to open in Dubai.
Raghida Haddad, a senior lecturer of environmental journalism at the Lebanese University, said the Arab region was “clearly suffering from the impact of climate change, especially long periods of drought, desertification, sandstorms, coastal degradation, and disruption of ecosystems.”
Yet awareness of these challenges and what needs to be done at the state, institutional and individual levels, was still “limited in the Arab region,” she said.
“Higher education must play a key role in raising awareness of the potential impacts of climate change in the Arab world, and what institutions, governments, and citizens must do,” Haddad said. “A climate-literate person understands how human activities affect the climate system, and how climate change has consequences for the Earth system and human life.”
“Climate illiteracy”, on the other hand, means a lack of awareness of the impacts that individuals and industrial activities have on the environment, says Abdul-Azim Khidr, a professor of journalism at Al-Azhar University, in Cairo.
“Education is a powerful means of building environmental knowledge and changing behaviours,” Khidr said.
“Environmental awareness can be built and developed by including environmental and climate vocabulary within curricula,” he added. “The problem is how ready we are to undertake this task, in terms of the availability of qualified professors and the necessary materials and resources. This requires appropriate funding, as well as the adoption of more open and flexible teaching methods, away from the traditional.”
According to a 2022 Unesco study, young people around the globe are dissatisfied with the quality of climate-change education they had received.
“Higher education must play a key role in raising awareness of the potential impacts of climate change in the Arab world, and what institutions, governments, and citizens must do.”Raghida Haddad, a senior lecturer of environmental journalism at the Lebanese University
The study was based on an online survey of nearly 17,500 young people from 166 countries. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents said they could not explain what climate change was, and 41 percent said they were only able to explain the broad principles.
More than three-quarters (77%) of the young people polled strongly agreed that climate change educators should include people from diverse backgrounds to address the complexity of the issue. Many wanted teaching efforts to go beyond school walls and include outside projects, such as with local organisations.
Evaluating Programmes’ Effectiveness
Khidr said that all relevant institutions were needed in efforts to eradicate climate illiteracy.
When putting climate-change education programmes in place, he said, it is also important to follow up with scientific evaluations to measure their impact and target them correctly.
Studies of behavioural change in students after periods of sustainability and environmental education have shown that they have a positive effect on behaviours that support sustainable change. Programmes about conservation and the environment have also been shown to enhance attitudes, knowledge, and skills that prepare individuals and communities to undertake environmental action.
Haddad believes that Arab countries can keep pace international climate-literacy work by supporting scientific research into low-carbon-emission fuels, which reduce air pollution.
Teaching Climate Awareness at All Levels
Abdul-Masih Samaan, a professor of environmental studies at Egypt’s Ain Shams University, suggested including the environment in curricula at all educational levels, directly or through activities that bring students together to discuss climate change and ways to confront it.
Semaan calls for tailoring programmes by category and stage, so that concepts are clear to each segment of learners.
“Environmental awareness can be built and developed by including environmental and climate vocabulary within curricula. However, the problem is how ready we are to undertake this task, in terms of the availability of qualified professors and the necessary materials and resources.”Abdel-Azim Khidr, a professor of journalism at Al-Azhar University, in Cairo
The importance of climate literacy education is recognized in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a legally binding treaty that was adopted by 196 countries at COP21, the U.N. climate-change conference held in Paris in 2015. Article 12 of that agreement calls on signatory states “to enhance climate-change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information”.
There is also broad public support for climate-change education. A recent Unesco study reports that two-thirds of respondents to a global opinion survey conducted in 2020 identified climate change and loss of biodiversity as among the biggest challenges facing the word in the decade ahead. Respondents also said they believed that education was key to addressing those challenges.
Yet in another study that looked at how countries were integrating climate change in education, fewer than half of the countries reviewed included climate education in school curricula at the pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels.
The United Arab Emirates is the host country for COP 28, which will take place from 30 November to 12 December at Expo City Dubai. Preliminary sessions will take place from 24 to 29 November.
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