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Is education key to climate change?

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CLIMATE change is today the defining issue of our time; from variable weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising temperatures and sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding. 

The impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. 

Climate change interacts with broader components of African food systems and strategies for making these systems more resilient, particularly in the context of rapid population growth and urbanisation across the continent.

 Without concerted action today, adapting to these impacts will be more difficult and costly in the future. 

To this end, the UN views education as a key pillar in the fight against climate change caused by global warming and assigned January 24 as the International Day of Education.  

The UN believes it is “… an opportunity to look at why climate change education is important and to highlight how UN Climate Change and its partners are bringing together government experts, along with practitioners and learners, to boost knowledge about climate change”.

Following the international climate agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015, world leaders formally acknowledged the urgent need to scale up global responses to climate change and agreed to mobilise stronger and more ambitious climate action, including those launched through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.

Zimbabwe’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, which required even greater purpose from all participating governments, is covered in theGovernment’s Initial Adaptation Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

These actions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), will determine whether the world achieves the long-term goals to hold the  global average temperature increase to well below 2 °C, and limit the increase to 1.5 °C while achieving net zero emissions in the second half of this century. 

Recent studies across 34 African countries found that although 67 percent of the respondents recognised that climate conditions for agricultural production have worsened over time, only 71 percent were aware of the phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘climate change’. Additionally, 63 percent of East Africans, against only 35 percent of North Africans, were more aware that the weather for growing crops had deteriorated in recent years.  

According to the study, 59 percent of those engaged in occupations related to agriculture (farming, fishing or forestry) were more aware of negative weather effects than those engaged in other livelihoods (45 percent). 

Similar findings of perceptions in weather changes were reported among a diverse number of rural communities in many sub-Saharan African countries. 

Studies among rural communities, particularly farmers, further revealed that while the majority perceived changes in rainfall variability (increased dry spells, decreases in rainfall and increased temperatures and/or temperature extremes), most respondents agreed that global warming needs to be mitigated; but only 51 percent expressed confidence in their ability to make a difference. 

In some cases, farmers’ perceptions of changes in the weather and climate variability matched meteorological records for decreased precipitation totals, increased frequency of droughts, shorter rain seasons, delayed rain seasons and increased temperatures.  

Most respondents also recognise the detrimental environmental effects of weather change and the range of negative socio-economic factors that resulted from it.

Personal experience of climate-related changes and their impacts were important factors in influencing peoples’ perceptions of climate change. 

This indicates that perception is not restricted to crop farmers.  However, perceptions among respondents show common misconceptions about the causes of climate change. 

This has implications for climate action and, in turn, highlights the importance of climate change literacy.

Climate change literacy is considered another important factor in the fight against climate change.

Climate change literacy includes having heard of climate change and understanding that it is, in part, caused by harmful human action. 

Understanding the human cause of climate change is a strong predictor of climate change risk perception and a critical knowledge foundation that can affect the difference between ‘coping’ responses and more informed and transformative adaptation.

Currently, according to the study, large disparities in climate change literacy exist between countries across Africa and even within the various regions and communities. Rates range from 23-66 percent in different countries compared to 80 percent across European countries.  

The average national climate change literacy rate in Africa is only 39 percent.

Out of a total of 394 national regions surveyed in 16 countries, eight percent have a climate change literacy rate lower than 20 percent, while only two percent (in eight regions) scored higher than 80 percent.

Significant differences in the lack of climate change literacy were also evident within the different states, districts and/or areas of the African countries surveyed. For instance, climate change literacy rates in Nigeria ranged from 71 percent in Kwara to five percent in Kano while in Southern Africa, there is 69 percent in Lobatse to only six percent in Kweneng West within Botswana. Statistics reveal that poverty also decreases climate change literacy; and climate change literacy rates for women average12,8 percent lower than for men.

Progress towards greater climate change literacy affords tangible opportunities to incorporate climate change within core national developmental agendas in Africa. 

Education is the strongest positive predictor of climate change literacy, particularly tertiary education.  

Since the identified factors driving climate change literacy on the continent overlap with broader developmental challenges, policies targeting these factors such as increased education can potentially yield co-benefits for climate change adaptation as well as progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly education and gender equality.  

Gender is an important factor in building resilience and adaptation to global environmental changes. Incorporating gender and water inequities into climate change education and adaptation would have a significant impact on achieving the SDGs, particularly 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6, while failure would undermine adaptation efforts. 

The UN, together with its partners, believe education in climate change is a central foundation to promoting understanding, sharing of information, resources, knowledge as well as collaboration on the issue of climate change and to achieve the goals agreed on by world leaders at the Paris Agreement (COP 21).  

Education from an early age can provide children, youth and adults with the necessary knowledge and skills to overcome these hurdles and to deal with climate change both in terms of building resilience to increasingly severe and unpredictable weather and harnessing the opportunities for sustainable economies. 

 Although the climate crisis is a global crisis, what happens in Africa is felt by the rest of the world. 

Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and a published author in her field. For comments E-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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