Lessons for Change: Education as response to climate change

Due to its immediate and palpable effects on the lives of the people, climate change is an issue that has captured the attention and sometimes the focus of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Asia Pacific. The overwhelming response to climate challenge is apparent, as various types of organizations are already involved in climate change-related advocacies – from sectoral groups to non-government organizations with interests ranging from environmental protection, agriculture and people empowerment.

The common denominator among all these organizations is the commitment to heighten the people’s awareness on climate change through Climate Change Education (CCE). It is believed that through education, the people can be empowered to save themselves from the worst effects of climate change – not just through the mere acquisition of technologies and adaptation strategies, but through the empowerment that possession of knowledge brings. Such is the nature of the advocacy that Climate Change Learning Initiative Mobilizing Actions for Transforming Environments in Asia-Pacific (or CLIMATE Asia Pacific) builds on, and hopes to spread across the region. With member organizations in ten countries, this network of educators and advocates pushes for the strengthening of the region’s capacity to deal with the phenomenon from the grassroots level, where the most vulnerable can be found, to the top, where policies are crafted to direct each country’s path towards development. In meeting this objective, the network’s first step is revitalizing CCE and widening the people’s access to information on climate change.

Climate Challenges

The enthusiasm displayed by many CSOs involved in the climate issues is perhaps an ample response to the extent of the challenges that they may face in the course of our work. For while there is a wealth of options on how to best adapt people to the effects of a changing climate, there also remains a myriad of problems in the world’s populous but largely underdeveloped region. Widespread poverty, uneven gender relations, deeply rooted social ills and weak governance characterize the state of most countries in the Asia Pacific region. Driven into this state by years of tumultuous foreign occupation and the prevalence of globalization policies in the post-colonial era, these nations are now listed as most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change. The socio-economic structures in both the global and local scene have indeed amplified the vulnerabilities of the region that can be attributed to its geographical and natural setting.

The region of Asia Pacific is host to many island states and archipelagic countries and therefore to millions of coastal communities that depend on the waters for their livelihood and life. Sitting in the vast waters of the Pacifc Ocean, these countries are also frequented by monsoons, typhoons and cyclones. And the adequate amount of rainfall, the tropical to moderate climate of the region and the abundance of fertile lands have made it ideal for growing vegetation, making agriculture a major source of living for the people.

The natural environment, however, has also set up the region for the harsh impacts of climate change. Scarcity of water resources is one of the problems foreseen to be exacerbated by climate change in the region in years to come. In China alone, altered water resource distribution patterns due to climate change are suspected of influencing the decreasing trend of water runoff in six main rivers, namely the Haihe River, Huaihe River, Yellow River, Songhuajiang River, Yangtze River, and Pearl River, for the last four decades.

Melting glacial cover in the region is also anticipated, resulting in worsened flooding impacts in downstream communities. New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has pointed out that glaciers in the Southern Alps have lost more than 10 % of their ice volume since 1977, as a result of a one-degree temperature increase in the region. Melting and retreat of glacial cover in the Himalayan region has also been observed, changing the landscape of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and increasing risks of flooding downstream in eastern regions of China.

The livelihood of Asia Pacific peoples is perhaps the greatest concern in this climate debacle, as countries in the region are largely dependent on seasons and rainfall for their food supply and income generation. The Cambodian Ministry of Environment has already identified a reduction in crop yields as an adverse impact of climate change in the country, while agricultural production in India has become “erratic both in volume and spread.”

Disasters are also seen to increase in occurrence and worsen in magnitude. In the Philippines, ten of the twenty worst typhoons to ever hit the country were recorded from 1990s onwards, with the period of 2006 up to the present exhibiting the biggest damage in life and property. Unpredictable weather patterns are also endangering people in Bangladesh, where the decrease in the number of cyclones originating from the Bay of Bengal since 1970 is compensated for by an increase in average cyclone intensity. The coasts of South Korea are also at risk of greater flooding due to sea level rise.

Mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change are futile if the people are not fully aware of the dangers they face and the options for survival. Thus, to brace for these impacts, the people should be informed of their vulnerabilities and the ways these weaknesses can be met to minimize the impacts.

Education for Change

CCE has to be fashioned under the context of extremely precarious conditions. The issue of climate change has introduced new problems in two fields that are closely related to climate change. In the cause for environmental sustainability, climate change is viewed as a phenomenon that further complicates man’s relationship with his natural environment, bringing along phenomena that need to be understood through a new strand of science. On the other hand, development work is challenged to keep pace with the earth’s changing natural conditions – climate change is now a factor in governance, policy development, construction and dissolution of social practices, and even in the maintenance of culture and lifestyle.

To realize the aim of equipping the populace with enough capacity to continue in the path of progress in the face of this global threat, civil society organizations (CSOs) are not only expected to master the science and methods of education – they have to be creative, innovative and critical in the promulgation of CCE.
There are several important aspects to be considered in CCE: technical capacity, the target learners, avenues and resources for learning or information dissemination, content of educational materials, and methods and strategies to be used. All aspects are interconnected and their relations predict the overall state of CCE in a country.

CCE in Asia Pacific is mostly facilitated by non-government organizations, government agencies and academic institutions. These organizations possess the most capacity to disseminate technical knowledge and other information to the general public. They are important links in CCE, for they own resources that can be used to widen the scope of CCE. For instance, schools are ideal venues to begin the mainstreaming of CCE. At present, universities in Bangladesh offering courses on environmental studies have adopted climate change issues into their curriculum, while climate studies has become a regular “add-on” to environmental science education.

Non-formal education, on the other hand, is also explored as a viable alternative to school-based CCE. As a response to the increased frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change, the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils) devised modules on disaster management for communities in very risky areas such as the uplands. As of now, the trend seems to suggest a dichotomy in CCE. The government and the academe take care of the technical expertise and the research for climate change, while CSOs provide the more practical knowledge in climate change responses.

Meanwhile, the choice of target learners for CCE is mostly determined by the vulnerability of chosen learners, the organization’s access to the prospect audience and a host of other factors such as gender balance, age, and sectoral needs. Of the seven countries surveyed by CLIMATE Asia Pacific member organizations for the scoping study on the state of CCE in the region, government workers, professionals, peasants and indigenous peoples rank as the most frequently targeted learner group.

The preference for government workers and professionals can be explained by the capability of both groups to reproduce CCE projects, as they have influence over agencies and academic institutions. Meanwhile, peasants and indigenous people’s groups are frequently targeted because they are considered as the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Both depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods and are helpless in the face of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, such as drought and flooding. They have the least economic capacity to recover from disasters, and the least access to government assistance due to their distance from the urban capitals and their lower educational attainment. Fortunately, some CSOs like the farmers’ network MASIPAG in the Philippines are also knowledgeable on new methods of farming and alternative livelihoods and are able to give free trainings and seminars.

Though many are eager to be part of this education advocacy, insufficient technical capacity and relative inexperience in tackling the issue of climate change still limit the scope of CCE. This may also be one of the reasons why CCE in the region is found mostly in universities, while organizations engaged in non-formal education for communities complain of the “mismatch” of the available educational materials to the needs and capacities of the vulnerable sectors such as peasants.

Many of the member organizations of CLIMATE Asia Pacific note that the lack of government support for CCE, whether through a policy or through the disbursement of resources, pushes back the agenda for climate resiliency. At times, government priority and the direction of CSOs do not meet on the same plane. Another conflict that adds to the difficulty of developing CCE in individual countries is the effect of international policies on local soils. In the Asia Pacific region, the ambiguity of the sourcing of the Green Climate Fund and the reluctance of industrialized countries to lend support to adaptation projects mean fewer resources to implement CCE projects and scrimping on budgets for ongoing activities.

It is here that we see the complexity of the challenge of CCE. To effectively raise the people’s consciousness on climate change issues, involved organizations are pushed to use a variety of means – from traditional educational materials such as flipcharts, towards new media forms such as songs or videos. Many also use presentations, and some like CEC-Phils also include structured learning experiences tools in the modules.

The experience of CLIMATE Asia Pacific also teaches the necessity of investing in digital media, which is an effective yet low-cost way of disseminating information on climate change. In 2011, the network established an online library, which serves as a repository of materials on climate change and related environmental issues.
Besides the best methods, the reach and scope of CCE also plays on the success of this endeavour. The wide networks of CSOs are then vital in building cooperation among various stakeholders, involving as many groups as possible. In the case of CLIMATE Asia Pacific, the inclusion of Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) in its network also makes it easier to spread the CCE advocacy across the region.

Yet, beyond capacitating the people for the impacts, education is also seen to hold the power to motivate the people towards being pro-active members of society, especially in issues concerning climate change and the environment. As the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC) recommends, simply integrating climate change and other related concepts into curriculums is not enough. It is also the educators’ duty to explain the politics of climate change, the historical development of the climate problem, and the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility.” These ideas are essential in tracing the roots of vulnerability, and here in Asia Pacific, people are entitled to know who or what caused the climate problem.

*This article was published in the 79th Adult Education and Development journal of the dvv International. It was written by Center for Environmental Concerns, secretariat of CLIMATE Asia Pacific.