ATA Magazine

Teaching for the planet

Climate change, the right to education and Education International

Looking south

When people must leave their homes and communities because of flooding or other weather-related reasons, along with the urgent need to be safe and have access to clean water, adequate food and community support, schooling will be disrupted.

In 2015, member states of the United Nations set out 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) intended to eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; and create economic, social and environmental conditions that provide for a thriving population and planet. The objectives include SDG 4, which stipulates that member states “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The 17 goals and the 169 targets set out within the goals are intended to guide the decision-making processes and actions of member states, with 2030 as the timeline for completion.

The SDGs are an integrated roadmap intended to create a better future for all, and while this article considers the right to education, SDG 13 also applies. SDG 13 demands that member states “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” While the connection between the right to education and mitigation of climate change may appear to be loose, it becomes apparent when the impacts of climate change on schools are considered.

Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2023) writes that “human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe” (p. 5) and that “approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change” (p. 6). The International Displacement Monitoring Center (2023) reports that in 2022, 31.8 million people were displaced within their own countries due to weather-related reasons such as flooding, storms, drought, wildfire, landslides and extreme temperatures. The internal displacement in 2022 is also reported to be 41 per cent higher than average of the previous decade. When people must leave their homes and communities because of flooding or other weather-related reasons; the urgent need for safety; or to access clean water, adequate food and community support, schooling will be disrupted.

In addition to disruptions to access to education due to migration out of disaster zones during climate-change events, infrastructure such as schools is placed at risk or is destroyed. The effect of these weather events has “caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people that are unequally distributed across systems, regions and sectors” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2023, 6). Not all countries have the same ability to replace lost buildings, technology and materials, so education disruption in some countries may impact students and teachers for many years. In addition, as we have seen with events such as Hurricane Katrina, many residents who leave their communities and homes may never return, leading to a permanent change for the city or town as well as the education system. Finally, those areas that are impacted by the temporary or permanent migration may not have supports available for the influx of population. In this regard, work must be done to adapt.

UNESCO (2023), in the highlights of its report "Learning at Risk: The Impact of Climate Displacement on the Right to

Education", noted that the policy response to those impacted by climate events is uneven across the globe. Consequently, UNESCO recommends that governments across the world develop comprehensive policy responses including developing

climate-resilient infrastructure, building strong social nets and fostering community resilience through education. UNESCO also calls for the provision of multiple pathways for accessing educational opportunities, particularly in the wake of a weather event.

What is the response of Education International to climate change?

Education International (EI), the global union federation for teachers and education workers, has 338 member organizations and 32 million members across 178 countries and territories. In 2020, the EI board of directors adopted a campaign called Teach for the Planet and set out policy to focus on climate change to support SDG 4. The policy position was adopted in part because EI recognized that “educators are already feeling the escalating impacts of the climate emergency in their personal and professional lives” (Torralba 2022, 2) and that these challenges were growing. The EI policy has five elements:

  1. To encourage governments to mandate quality climate education for all

  2. To ensure that students leave education climate-literate and equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle climate change, adapt to uncertainties and take part in building a more sustainable future

  3. To create quality climate-change curricula that is scientifically based and addresses the ethical, cultural, political, social and economic dimensions of climate change

  4. To ensure that teachers are trained and supported to provide quality climate change education

  5. To ensure that schools and learning environments are transformed to support quality climate-change education, including building school infrastructure that is climate-resilient

The work of EI in supporting climate change and the continuity of public education has its roots in the union movement going back to 1995, when “Les Lepold of the Labor Institute and Brian Kohler, a labour leader from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), coined the term ‘just transition’ at a presentation to the International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality” (Torralba 2022, 4). For unions, the term “just transition” recognizes that we are linked to the environment within which we live and that unions must “recognize the importance of upholding environmental safeguards alongside of job security and community safety” (Torralba 2022, 4). As the global representative of teachers and educators, EI uses its campaign and policy to support global citizens to create a sustainable, fair and just society going forward into the future.


International Displacement Monitoring Center. 2023. Global Report on Internal Displacement and Food Security.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2023. “Summary for Policymakers.” In Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Core writing team eds H. Lee and J. Romero. IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland: 1–34. doi: 10.59327/IPCC/ AR6-9789291691647.001

Torralba, A. 2022. “Educators on a Heating Planet: Shaping Education Unions’ Vision for a Just Transition.” Education International, October 2022.

United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2023. “Education at Risk: The Impact of Climate Displacement on the Right to Education: Highlights.” https://

Lisa Everitt
Lisa Everitt

Executive Staff Officer, Government, ATA