As we edge toward the ﬁfth anniversary of the Paris Agreement’s adoption, our collective climate (in)action is tracking toward a 3.2 °C temperature rise (UNEP 2019). This is despite growing evidence that sustainable development and tackling climate change are mutually beneﬁcial. Ambitious climate action enabled by carefully balanced social, environmental and economic policies could, by 2030, add USD 26 trillion in global economic beneﬁts, prevent 700 000 premature deaths from air pollution, and create 65 million new low-carbon jobs, an additional USD 2.8 trillion in government revenues, and increased female labour-force participation.
The current COVID pandemic exempliﬁes how a global systemic catastrophe, such as climate change, can impact every sector of every country and decimate the global economy. Unlike recovery from COVID-19, the loss of marine and terrestrial habitats and mass extinctions from climate change impacts will be irreversible.
Millions of the world’s youth are adding their voice to calls for responsible leadership, more resilient low-carbon solutions, better education, and investor accountability. Already focus is shifting to the ‘next 1.31 billion’, today’s 5–15 years olds who by 2030 will join the global work force – one which will likely be in the process of deep transformation. For these kids, climate change education can foster the appetite for long-term behavioural shifts while equipping them with the cultural, technical and digital skills to thrive in a climate-changed future. Without such know-how, sustainable development will remain elusive.
In Cambodia, the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance supported by the GCCA+ is mainstreaming climate-focused education in secondary schools. 50 % of Cambodia’s 16.7 million people are under 22 and 3 million children will enter the workforce over the next decade. Under curricula to be introduced this year, 500 000 students from grades 10 to 12 will learn about climate change, the vulnerability proﬁle of their country, and possible policies, measures and technologies that could be applied to build resilience and reduce emissions.
The approach builds partly on an Eco-Schools pilot that has successfully engaged more than 7 000 young people and education ofﬁcials in environmental and climate change issues. Students and teachers worked on resilience projects such as tree planting and climate-smart agriculture and on the circular economy. This type of practical approach could be adopted in many countries to help build skills that will be integral to tomorrow’s workforce.
With suitable education and engagement, today’s students will build demand for more resilient, low-carbon solutions and shape investment decisions from both the private and public sectors. Only political will is needed to leverage the potential of the next generation for the transition to a more resilient, low-carbon economy.