Can education equality solve climate change?

Kira Khangura
July 3, 2022


The access to quality education is mentioned in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Yet, in 2015, the total number of children and adolescents out of school was 264 million, according to UNESCO research. In this same study, it was found that most children without education were in less developed regions including Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-East Asia and Northern Africa.


This inequality is not only seen between regions of the world, but also within gender too. In Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, women aged 15 years and older are 25% less likely to be literate than males in the same age group. On a global scale, only 49% of countries have achieved gender equality in primary education.


But what's the big issue?


Education is often referred to as 'the great equaliser of the conditions of men'. By helping children receive key skills, their chances of achieving a sustainable, lifetime income are significantly increased. In many developing countries, an extra year of education can bring 10x higher wages. This benefits the individual through progressing living standards. It also benefits the national economy - investment into education creates a multiplier effect. Both of these impacts have an undeniable effect on poverty rates. UNESCO estimates that if all children in developing countries had basic reading skills, approximately 171 million people could be freed from extreme poverty.


It is clear to see why education is one of the UN's sustainable development goals and a key concern for nations. Yet what is more unheard of is its role in tackling climate change.


If investment into quality and sustainable education is granted, it leaves those in developing countries in a much more advantageous position to mitigate the effects of climate change. Higher household incomes - paired with greater economic growth - allows for more spending and research into climate change solutions.


The United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) states that for every additional year of secondary education a girl receives she will improve her country's resilience to climate disasters by 3.2 points.


Although it is not a guarantee, education and its effect on poverty rates have the capacity to effect how the world faces climate change, or at least certainly make a start.


Coming back to gender quality, the education of girls has a profound effect on reducing infant mortality rates and allowing women to have children later in life and more safely. Its effect on population growth will help dampen the climate problem. Project Drawdown, an organisation tackling climate change, estimates that the education of girls and the subsequent decreasing of family sizes could lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to almost 60 gigatons by 2050.


So how will we fix this?


The UN estimates that just an extra 39 billion dollars could ensure universal education in low-income countries. To put this into perspective, the US spent 752 billion dollars on public education in 2019. Luckily, large-scale initiatives are already taking place. Save the Children is working in Rwanda to increase the number of quality children's books as well as starting reading clubs. Utilising modern technology, UNICEF created the 'learning passport': an online platform that delivers flexible and enriching learning for children around the world.


These projects are vital in improving the quality of life for disadvantaged communities. The reduce in poverty rates will become increasingly crucial as the world feels the effects of climate change.These education strategies mean that climate response can have a comprehensive approach and will be genuinely beneficial to all.


If you want to find out more about organisations that support global education, click here