The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD 2005-2014) provides a framework for enhancing and promoting active learning and innovative ways of framing the climate change issue so that it makes sense in people’s daily lives. This relates largely to the UNFCCC-COP15 agenda. Indeed, climate change is an issue which needs to be part of public awareness, learning, and education for a sustainable future so that sustainable behaviors become daily habits. The following interview of Philippe Saugier is part of DESD’s efforts to give Education for Sustainable Development experts a voice in the climate change debate. He has kindly agreed to share his interview with us.
What does climate change mean to you?
Climate change is the most blatant example of imbalance in people’s relations among themselves and with their environment, and the gravest threat to the pursuit of the human adventure on Earth. It is also, though, the greatest opportunity that has ever arisen to supplant national, economic, and identity-based interests and to build at last the mechanisms of solidarity and world governance which humanity needs, not only to preserve the environment on which it depends but also to contain its violence and cruelty. It will no longer be possible to find a way out through dominance of private interests. It will certainly not be achieved smoothly, but the imperative of survival will compel us to come up with new forms of global regulation capable of restoring the balance.
What do you expect will result from the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen, December 7-18, 2009?
From a rational point of view, at both the scientific and economic levels, the most urgent need is, of course, to reverse the GHG emission curves worldwide. However, the transition from the rational to reality, via politics, faces vertiginous obstacles. In my view, the first among them, the number one issue in Copenhagen is the matter of global justice. The industrialized West bears historical responsibility for the problem. The prerequisite for the involvement of the rest of the world is without any possible doubt the massive reduction in emissions by the most affluent fringe of the world’s population. Otherwise, the outcomes of international negotiations will always fall well short of the level of the problem – like the Kyoto Protocol which, even though it represents an important step politically, has to date been unable to counter the exponential increase in global emissions.
Is Education in general and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in particular providing answers to climate change related problems?
Just as we will not extricate ourselves from the climate impasse without world governance, we will not manage to build true world governance without drawing support from a global citizenship. In my country, France, education forged the national consciousness and identity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Education in the 21st century must now forge the global consciousness and identity. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), in its fullest sense, is the shaping of global citizens conscious of the challenges that loom over our shared future and capable of addressing them. With regard to the climate issue, in a project such as CarboSchools, young children are trained in a scientific approach to understand not only the facts of the problem but also to seek solutions. Faced with a very anxiety-provoking situation, the educational challenge is to overcome the feeling of guilt and impotence by developing critical thinking, global consciousness, and the desire and ability to take action.
Why aren’t education and awareness-raising on the agenda of the conference in Copenhagen?
My theory is that it is basically for the same reason as that which has thus far brought about the failure of the negotiations: namely, the failure to take a step back, of long-term political vision among government leaders who by definition, in their majority, have short-term mandates. With regard to the central themes of the negotiations, i.e. mitigation and adaptation, governments have great difficulty in agreeing on decisions that have a short-term cost for a long-term benefit. The problem is the same with education, which is an investment on which there is no return in five or even 10 years. Paradoxically, this difficulty in investing over the long term may also be linked to the sense of urgency, to the need to find solutions that are immediately effective and to the idea that education will not produce swift results. The most urgent of urgent needs is clearly, however, to fit short-term solutions into a movement that is far-reaching and long-term. Anyway, it is impossible to turn off the coal and petroleum taps suddenly.
If you had the opportunity to give a speech in front of the delegates in Copenhagen, what would you emphasize?
Since it is vital that the solutions be raised to the true level of the problem, and since that requires commitments not only for five-year periods, as provided for in the Kyoto Protocol, but also for 20, 30, and 50 years, I would strongly urge the delegates to the conference to now include education as one of the pillars of the agenda for the negotiations, because these long-term commitments will never be kept if society is not thoroughly prepared for them. The dominant training systems in the industrialized world have led to unsustainable development. We must now radically change them so that henceforth they will lead to sustainable development. Owing in particular to the work carried out during the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development, we know how to undertake these transformations, and the climate change challenge is exacerbating the urgency.
At the present moment, in practically all the world’s education systems, sustainable development is still on the sidelines. We must place it in the center and, then, the very term education for sustainable development will vanish, as it will be obvious that the purpose of education, taken as a whole, in the same way as reading, writing, and numeracy skills, will be to restore and preserve the balance in people’s relations among themselves and with their environment.
Philippe Saugier designs, coordinates, and evaluates international educational projects aimed at promoting learning towards sustainability. He is currently employed by the Max Plank Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany as the EU funded Science in Society project CarboSchools coordinator. CarboSchools promotes teacher-scientist partnerships about global change research in Europe.