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Why is education important in tackling climate change?

This Earth Day, our Head of Sustainability, Vicky Evans, explores the role of education in transitioning to a sustainable future and shares progress on our own commitments.

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Climate change is one of the greatest threats of our time. The most vulnerable populations are experiencing the impacts of climate change first and worst. Climate change magnifies inequalities and requires solutions that address underlying and overlapping vulnerabilities.  

Education has a hugely important role to play in driving the transition to a sustainable future. By increasing the quality and accessibility of education and developing people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards climate change, the world can see more effective, and swifter, change. 

In 2020, Global Education Monitoring (GEM) reported that financing education in low- and lower-middle-income countries could reduce global emissions by 51.48 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) by 2050. Research (such as that out of North Carolina State University in 2019) shows dedicated education on climate change and environmental can help change behaviours which harm the environment across a population. In addition, a well-educated workforce is a vital part of the industrial revolution needed to tackle climate change.

Studies in the behaviour change of students following periods of sustainability and environmental education have shown a positive effect towards behaviours beneficial for supporting sustainable change. Programmes of learning focused on conservation and environmental education have been shown to enhance environmental attitudes, values, and knowledge, as well as build skills that prepare individuals and communities to collaboratively undertake positive environmental action. Reviewed studies indicate that action-oriented programmes, created learners more able to construct their visions for finding strategies to solve climate problems and improve pro-environmental behaviours.  

All parties to the Paris Agreement recognise climate learning as an essential driver in meeting the delivery of their nationally determined contributions. Whilst many national climate change learning strategies are still in development, there is a recognised ‘gap’ between current practise and the need for bold approaches to quality climate change education highlighted in nationally determined contributions. Educators can fill this gap with a recognised role in policy and decision making and as a stakeholders in national climate action. 

Cambridge has a unique role in supporting educators to drive the transformative need required. Cambridge Partnership for Education (CPE) regularly speaks to government officials around the world to understand their national vision for a more sustainable economy and workforce and to explore how an education system might need to adapt to ensure the next generation has the skills required to achieve those goals. By supporting our partners to build effective climate learning into their national curricula and to increase the quality and accessibility of education, CPE is partnering on caring for the natural world through developing people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours towards climate change.  

Throughout Cambridge Assessment International Education programmes of learning and assessment, learners will experience content that addresses fundamental issues in sustainability. In our core science IGCSE suite including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Coordinated Science and Combined Science, learners will be exposed to content that includes human nutrition and diet, human influences on ecosystems and air quality and climate. Learners are facilitated in developing skills relevant to driving a transition to a sustainable world such as outdoor learning, critical thinking, collaborative working and experimentation and teachers are able to access a range of support to explore sustainability in the classroom from habitat destruction, pollution, biodiversity and conservation to biotechnology and genetic modification.

In the UK, we will play a crucial role in a new GCSE in Natural History, helping young people understand better the world in which we live, which has just been announced by the UK government’s Department for Education. This is a huge milestone which supports a decade-long campaign led by naturalist, Mary Colwell, and years of research by our UK exam board OCR involving more than 2,500 teachers, students and environmental experts.   

Supported by our extensive and world leading sustainability publishing programme, we are also able to bring the latest thinking on climate change to the world by accelerating the exchange of ideas and building richer understanding. We are offering free access to book chapters and journal articles via our Earth Day hub, following on from the package of 300 journal articles and book chapters we made free to access in the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November. We’ve also joined the Climate Change Knowledge Cooperative to further widen access to the research we publish.  

Delivering our educational mission must be done in a way that enhances and protects the natural world and the societies that live in it. One year on from launching our target to reduce our energy-related emissions to carbon zero by 2048, we have reduced our UK electricity, gas and fleet emissions by 15 per cent. We have set targets to reduce our corporate travel emissions by 25 per cent by 2030.  We began a systematic switch to using only Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper across our products and services and are on track to achieve 60 per cent FSC paper certification by July 2022. We also became a founding signatory of the UK Publishers Association's Publishing Declares sustainability pledge - working with other publishing organisations to help develop and set these targets.

But we want to do more.  

Forward thinking education cannot remain static in a rapidly changing world. To provide future generations with the knowledge and practical skills they need to protect the world around them, we need to provide curricula that empowers people to take responsibility for their present and for future generations, and actively contribute to societal transformation, in whatever context they are in. And deliver it in a way that reduces our impact on the natural world. As we set out on our sustainability journey, we want to work with our school communities, teachers, researchers and learners to continue to explore solutions for delivering education that tackles the challenges of today – and tomorrow. 

If you are interested in working with Cambridge University Press & Assessment on education for sustainability, we want to hear from you. We will be hosting a range of consultation opportunities as we develop our work in this area and welcome messages of speculative interest at

Watch the video below to find out more about our commitment to the environment and join in the conversation at @CambPressAssess using the hashtag #CambridgeSustainability.

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