Global CCE Blog

Why Education is Critical for Climate Action—and How Policy Can Help

Susie Ho, Marcia McKenzie, Kristen Hargis, & Nicola Chopin, MECCE Project

The original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) and the Paris Agreement (2015) both recognise, through the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) agenda, that education is of critical importance in catalyzing the social and political will needed to transition to post-carbon societies. 

ACE has historically been a marginal focus in intergovernmental negotiations; however, UNFCCC processes are increasingly recognizing the importance of mobilizing climate action at local through to global scales. This growing momentum is reflected in sessions such as the ‘expert dialogue on the impacts of climate change on children’ at the 2024 UN Climate Conference in Germany , as well as in the recent Global Stocktake decision made at COP29 in Dubai in 2023, which emphasizes the importance of ACE for “empowering all members of society to engage in climate action” and this of course includes children. 

Climate change and education are highly interlinked. For example, climate change affects the delivery and quality of education around the world – as climate related weather events such as fires and flooding disrupt educational provision. Since climate change impacts are greater on marginalized groups, this particularly has implications for some communities, including many in the Global South. 

The MECCE Project’s Dr. Susie Ho (Centre Left) speaks at the 2024 Expert Dialogue on the Impacts of Climate Change on Children

Education is also essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change. It is vital for empowering children, youth and adults to mobilize their communities in moving away from fossil fuels and towards addressing inequities related to climate change.

As awareness of climate change rises among students, children and youth, so too does climate anxiety and grief, which can result in hopelessness, denial, and inaction. It is therefore crucial that climate education prepares youth to address these emotions, including through providing opportunities for youth to participate in and accelerate systemic climate action. 

Research Data on Climate Change Education

Research insights from the MECCE Project, an international partnership focused on increasing the quantity and quality of ACE globally, show that education systems in countries around the world have opportunities to build the capacity needed to address climate change through policy solutions. 

Research shows that education systems in countries around the world have opportunities to build the capacity needed to address climate change through policy solutions. 

The cover of “Climate change and sustainability in science and social science secondary school curricula” (UNESCO, 2024)

The cover of “Education and climate change: Learning to act for people and planet” (UNESCO & MECCE Project, 2024)

For instance, MECCE Project analyses of national curriculum frameworks from 161 countries around the world have found that only about half include climate change content. Our analysis of science and social science subject curricula in over 80 countries found three-quarters of Grade 3 curricula did not refer to climate change at all, almost half of the Grade 6 curricula did not refer to climate change at all, and one quarter of Grade 9 curricula did not refer to climate change at all (UNESCO, 2024). 

However, not all climate change education is created equal. As scholar David Orr (2011) said, “It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind (p. 238)” Case study analyses of education policy and curricula conducted by the MECCE Project across over 20 countries have found a predominant focus on scientific knowledge, even though this approach has been found ineffective (see UNESCO, 2019; UNESCO, 2024). Instead, education also needs to address social and emotional, and action learning dimensions. The analyzed curricula also rarely included a focus on climate justice or Indigenous knowledge and priorities, which are key in addressing climate change. 

These and other data are summarized in a new policy paper co-written by the MECCE Project, the Global Education Monitoring Report, and UNESCO (UNESCO & MECCE Project, 2024), which was released on World Environment Day 2024. The paper also outlines key ways education can address climate change through policy. Some of these are as follows:

Research-Informed Climate Change Education Policy Solutions

The content within education and climate policies matters. Countries with higher education levels tend to produce more greenhouse gas emissions per capita (UNESCO, 2024). This raises questions about traditional educational approaches, which have focused on teaching learners about the science of climate change and individualized climate actions. These types of approaches have been found ineffective in engendering the large scale change required (Hornsey et al., 2016; Kahan et al., 2012. Instead, social and emotional, and action learning dimensions are also important, as well as collective versus mainly individualized approaches (Hargis & McKenzie, 2020).

Education systems can teach, model, and also take climate action through a whole institution approach to policy (Hargis & McKenzie, 2020; Hargis, McKenzie, & Chopin, 2024). This involves addressing climate change across all areas of school policy: school governance (e.g., policies, committees), teaching and learning (e.g., curriculum, pedagogy), facilities and operations (e.g., energy provision, emissions), and community engagement (e.g., partnerships with municipalities, NGOs, Elders). 

Increasingly, young people are demanding transformative changes to climate education (see UNESCO, 2022). They want more climate action and climate justice. They want education systems that are addressing the demands of the climate change challenges. They want education that helps empower youth and adults to be change agents and advocate for broad, systemic policy solutions in their communities.

More education, of the right kind, is crucial to engender the social and political will and capacity to address the climate crisis with the urgency and skills required.

How can I learn more?

MECCE Project Knowledge Mobilization Lead Dr. Susie Ho presented these remarks at the “Expert dialogue on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on children and relevant policy solutions” at the UN Climate Change Conference on June 4, 2024. 

About the Authors

Susie Ho is an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Science at Monash University, and the Director of the Master of Environment and Sustainability. She works to foster interdisciplinary and solutions-focused education to equip future leaders with the skills required to enact change. She is also part of the YEAH network, empowering youth to present in intergovernmental settings.

Marcia McKenzie Professor and Associate Dean Sustainability in the Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne. She is Director of the Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education (MECCE) Project (, University of Saskatchewan. Her research areas include global education policy research, geographies of education, and climate and sustainability education, including in relation to place, mobilities, and affect theory. She is co-author/editor of six books, including Researching Global Education Policy: Diverse Approaches to Policy Movement (Policy Press, 2024) and Navigating the Research-Policy Relationship: Studies in Environmental and Sustainability Education (2024, Routledge); and co-edits the book series Lobal Global Issues in Education (Routledge) and Studies in Education and the Environment (Palgrave).

Kristen Hargis is a MECCE Project Postdoctoral Scholar who specializes in quality climate change education policy and practice. She is currently coordinating a UNESCO commissioned project analyzing curricula from at least 75 countries for the inclusion of climate change education. She also coordinates the Project’s US Landscape Analysis, which explores state-level uptake of climate change education in policy across primary, secondary, and higher education in partnership with the North American Association for Environmental Education. Since 2013, she has worked with the MECCE Project and its host, the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN), on a range of projects including several UNESCO consultancies and SEPN’s Canadian Landscape Analysis. She holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Sustainability from the University of Saskatchewan and received her M.Ed. in Educational Foundations from the University of Saskatchewan.


Aikens, K., & McKenzie, M. (2021). A comparative analysis of environment and sustainability in policy across subnational education systems. Journal of Environmental Education, 1-14. DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1080/00958964.2021.1887685.

Hargis, K., & McKenzie, M. (2020). Responding to climate change: A primer for K-12 education. The Sustainability and Education Policy Network, Saskatoon, Canada.

Hargis, K., McKenzie, M., & Chopin, N. (2024). The state of environmental and sustainability education in Canada: A review of past, current, and future directions. In M. Rieckmann & R. Thomas (Eds.), World review: Environmental and sustainability education in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. Science Publishers.

Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., Bain, P. G., & Fielding, K. S. (2016). Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change. Nature: Climate Change, 6, 622-626. doi: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2943

Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The

polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature: Climate Change, 2, 732-735.

MECCE Project & NAAEE. (2022). Mapping the landscape of K-12 climate change education policy in the United States.

MECCE Project & UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report. (2023). Climate change communication and education country profiles: Approaches to greening education around the world.

McKenzie, M. & Aikens, K. (2020). Global education policy mobilities and subnational policy practice. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 1-15. DOI: 10.1080/14767724.2020.1821612.

Orr, D. (2011). Hope is an imperative: The essential David Orr. Island Press. 

United Nations. (2015). Paris Agreement. 

UNESCO. (2019). Country progress on climate change: A comparative analysis  of 366 national submissions to the UNFCCC. 

UNESCO. (2022). Youth demands for quality climate change education. 

UNESCO. (2024). Climate change and sustainability in science and social science secondary school curricula. 

UNESCO & MECCE Project (2024). Education and climate change: Learning to act for people and planet. UNFCCC. (1992). United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.