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Climate change education is the missing fuel in addressing the climate crisis.by Rose Kobusinge*, Cofounder Climate and Biodiversity Initiative Uganda.
Uganda, just like many other least developed Sub-Saharan African countries, is highly vulnerable to climate change: high exposure and low community adaptive capacity, yet is the least contributor to climate change. To us Ugandans, climate change is not a future threat but a current and future crisis ravaging the lives, livelihoods, homes, identities and well-being of millions of poor and underserved communities.
Unfortunately, climate change awareness is extremely low in the country. BBC world service once put it, "Least responsible, most affected, least informed". The public and politicians are less informed about climate change and its mitigation and adaptation strategies, the media rarely reports on climate change. Interestingly, almost everyone, (especially the rural and urban poor) has experienced first-hand impacts of increasing floods, droughts, landslides and pests diseases hence significantly leading to food insecurity, famine, loss of lives, health issues, water scarcity and untold suffering. From the ongoing hunger in Karamoja sub-region, the recent floods in Eastern Uganda, the floods and displacements in Kasese, many people recognise that the climate is changing from personal experience of worsening extreme weather events. Sometimes, the "Act of God", gods and bad luck are blamed for these climate disasters.
To make things worse, we have what I call an 'outdated' national education curriculum system that does not correspond to the needs, challenges and solutions of the 21st century. For example, the lower secondary school curriculum was recently revised but Environmental and Climate Education and Education for Sustainable development (ESD) are still a missing piece.
Moreover, I am now at COP27 but the truth there is no progress from the party delegations I have talked with regarding mainstreaming climate education and literacy. One of them told me that he also does not understand climate change that well. I feel like mainstreaming climate education MUST be the first commitment from both developed and developing nations.
Addressing the climate change education and literacy gapAt the Climate and Biodiversity Initiative (CBI), we recognise that climate change education is power. Without climate change education, there will be limited political will and limited progress in adaptation and mitigation efforts and implementation. People cannot mitigate or adapt to climate change when they do not know the what and how of climate action. I actually think that limited climate education might be a contributing factor to why the so called world leaders fail to prioritise climate action and continue to make empty promises.
Says Paul Mugisa, cofounder of CBI, "Climate education is an essential factor in the more urgent global fight against climate change. Knowledge regarding this phenomenon helps young people to understand and tackle the impacts of Climate change, and encourages them to think of sustainable solutions to an already global emergency".
The Climate and Biodiversity Initiative-Uganda is a youth-led initiative in Uganda established: To facilitate an impactful resilient generation that restores/replenishes nature and empowers the most vulnerable people. The initiative's work explores broad social-economic and environmental areas such as climate education, loss and damage action, activism, environmental campaigns, skilling the youth, advancing sustainable development goals, gender equity and refugee empowerment.
Our work on climate change awareness and actionEven though we are strong advocates for national Curriculum review to include climate education, we cannot wait for the education curriculum to change. We must urgently advance climate change education using both formal, informal and non formal tactics and strategies. Moreover, the existing literature on climate change is very high level, complex and hard to translate or understand to the grassroots and local communities. Our approach to climate change education and literacy combines the establishment and strengthening of climate change clubs in schools, social media campaigns, public dialogues, grassroots mobilisation and capacity building, and mobilising schools, youth, women, politicians, media houses, Civil Society Organisations to advance climate change education. We are also combining behavioural change for reuse, recycle, refuse, proper waste disposal and waste sorting to fight plastic pollution.
Most of our work is voluntary and our passionate student volunteers use their own little pocket money to deliver our climate education programmes such as Trees4Life project in schools and rural farming communities in Kyenjojo and Ntoroko in Western Uganda. Also, thank you to our supporters that have donated through the gofundme fundraiser, we cannot do this without your support and we look forward to more support from everyone to advance climate education and vulnerable communities in Uganda.
We also recently received a grant of $4,900 from Global Greengrants Fund for our Green schools project. It is being currently implemented in three schools and we will potentially expand to two more schools. In the schools where we are establishing and strengthening environmental and climate change clubs, running climate education and innovation competitions we are so far engaging over 1,500 primary school children, and ten teachers as stewards of climate change education. We are also working with proactive young climate enthusiasts and nurturing them as climate leaders and activists.
We are also planting fruit and native tree species with schools and encouraging students to spearhead tree planting in their homes and share knowledge with their family and friends.
We also host Twitter spaces on complex environmental and climate change topics to engage the online community of young Ugandans and Africans.
Our challenges and Moving ForwardLimited access to resources: Financial resources are still a big challenge for us. For example we would like to expand our work in these schools and to other schools and farming communities, but we need about $28k. Sometimes it's hard to motivate volunteers to deliver if they have to incur costs with no compensation. It is thus important that decision makers, philanthropists, private and public sector prioritise resource investments in climate change education to produce 21st century leaders. Indeed , there will be no regrets as Climate change education is the missing fuel in addressing the climate crisis.
We also have a project proposal to raise awareness in flood prone areas of Kasese in Western Uganda. We aim to raise awareness of climate change and build climate and societal resilience through ecosystem restoration, livelihood support in local communities at risk and internally displaced persons. We are now looking for $30k to deliver this project.
Limited political will and ambition: Uganda as a country has quite progressed in terms of drafting the nationally determined contributions in (NDCs) and other documents-related interventions. However there is still limited political awareness of climate change and hence limited political will for many decision makers at different levels. As a result, there are limited ambitions and broad gaps in actual implementation of policies and climate action programmes.
Limited media interest: The limited local media interest to cover and report Climate change and the work of many organisations like CBI and diverse voices of many activists is a big gap in Uganda. We are planning on a campaign to engage both local and international media to cover more of our work and the work of other youth organisations in Uganda.
In conclusion: Climate change education is not a cost but an investment. The cost of no or limited Climate change education is and will continue to cascade as low political will, low community capacity to adapt and mitigate climate change and limited contextual innovations to address the climate crisis. More so, lack of climate change education is in favour of the heavy polluters and emitters, it's one way to keep populations in the Global South naive and ignorant yet continue to face the brutal impacts of climate change. Therefore, advancing climate justice starts with climate education and awareness raising, we strongly urge governments and development partners to review school curricula to integrate climate change education and also invest in non-school approaches to target non-school going populations. For the youth, activists and all in the fight for climate justice and education, let us all collectively do our part for People and Planet.
Rose Kobusinge is a Ugandan Climate Action advocate and a cofounder of the Climate and Biodiversity Initiative Uganda. Rose possesses a masters in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford and a BSc in Environmental Science from Makerere University Uganda.
Climate and Biodiversity Initiative during a climate change and health awareness activity at Kisaasi Primary School (November 2022).
Climate and Biodiversity Initiative empowering children on Water, Health, Sanitation and Hygiene in the face of the climate crisis (November 2022).