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COP21: a one-of-a-kind chance to teach climate change in a real-world context

If our nation and the international community are to succeed in effectively addressing climate change, we need a public that is climate-literate.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, more than 40,000 people representing more than 190 countries will gather in Paris to discuss the most important issue facing the world today: climate change.
REUTERS/Charles Platiau

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, more than 40,000 people representing more than 190 countries – including 10 U.S. educators, a colleague and me – will gather in Paris to discuss the most important issue facing the world today: climate change. I do not say this lightly, and I absolutely recognize the gravity of the recent terror attacks in Paris. I say this based on the reality that climate change is exacerbating and even instigating conflicts around the world already, and if not addressed, will continue to have dire consequences that threaten peace and security. The upcoming COP21 climate conference is a pivotal opportunity to create a more secure future for today’s students and youth, by reaching a meaningful agreement to address climate change.

Kristen Poppleton

As director of education for Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, I am leading a delegation of 10 teachers, or Education Ambassadors, to Paris because I recognize the historic significance of COP21 as the world’s best chance to effectively limit the threat of climate change. What’s more, it is critically important to elevate the necessity of climate change education on the world stage, and that starts with elevating the voices of educators in today’s classrooms. If our nation and the international community are to succeed in effectively addressing climate change, we need a public that is climate-literate. Today’s young people must understand the basics of the Earth’s climate system, which is already changing around them. They must understand the economic, social and political ramifications of climate change. Finally, our youth must be equipped to communicate about climate change in a meaningful way, and to make informed and responsible decisions as future leaders in a changing climate.

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Educators serve as critical messengers of climate literacy for hundreds of students each year, and this year’s pivotal COP21 climate negotiations provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity to teach climate change in a real-world context. The 10 Education Ambassadors joining me in Paris come from across the country, including six from Minnesota, and bring with them the hopes and dreams of their students, schools and communities. Each of these teachers recognizes that nothing is more relevant than climate change for their students, because it connects to every subject and impacts them in direct ways.

Involving students in multiple ways

In the lead-up to COP21, these Education Ambassadors have been teaching about climate change in their classrooms, and asking their students to develop position statements on why the Paris climate talks are important to them. Teachers are bringing the negotiations alive for their students by facilitating mock debates, discussing the issue of equity at COP21, and recording video statements that highlight why their students care about climate change.

While in Paris, these teachers will literally act as ambassadors for their students, meeting with individuals from around the world to answer their students’ questions and webcasting back to their classrooms to share their experiences. Our delegation will also deliver the position statements from students to the U.S. delegation, highlighting the importance of climate change education in building a climate resilient future.

UNFCCC Secretary Christiana Figueres recently said: “There will be an inordinate amount of work to be done on facing climate change on the part of those that today are still students … we have to stand up to that and realize that is so. Hence it’s about getting more and more students first fully educated on what this is. It is none other than the new reality.”

Children will live with climate change impacts

While attending the climate talks in Paris, I am choosing to stand up for my children and the future of all students, for they will inherit the outcomes of the decisions that are made at COP21 and they will live with the impacts of climate change throughout their lives. The COP21 negotiations in Paris should be the moment when the world looks back and says, “That’s when we turned the tide on climate change.”

These negotiations will be in the history books of the next generation, and educators should be witnessing, recording, and sharing the primary sources of that history with their students. By bringing educators to participate in the COP21 climate talks, we can help ensure that today’s youth will be the innovators of climate solutions and the enforcers of sound climate policy that the world needs them to be.

Kristen Poppleton is the director of education at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. She is leading a delegation of 10 Education Ambassadors to Paris for COP21 through Climate Generation’s Window into Paris program. Find out more here.

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