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COP and the SDGs: Why women’s empowerment should be a priority for climate debate

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During the lead up to COP24, we were exploring how climate is a cross-sectoral issue that is closely linked with the SDGs

This year’s climate change conference aimed to focus the discussion on three key themes – technology: how to boost development of climate-friendly solutions, humankind: how to ensure sustainable socio-economic transformation of industrial regions, and nature: how to achieve climate neutrality and improve CO2 absorption. However, to successfully tackle these issues, policymakers should broaden their focus from climate to include larger development issues highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the second post of our new series on the links between climate and the SDGs, our experts on education, gender equality, and water security debate the key priorities for each intersection.

SDG 4: Quality education

Based in Myanmar, our Education team lead Ian MacAuslan discusses how climate change impacts the fourth SDG.

According to UNESCO, education is an integral part of the global response to climate change – it helps young people understand the impacts of global warming, encourages changes in behaviour towards the environment, and helps people develop new habits and attitudes to help protect the environment.

While slowing and reversing anthropomorphic climate change is already high on the world’s agenda, achieving this requires more than high level policy agreements, meetings, or programmes. All of us who contribute to pollution of the land, sea, and air must change our behaviour. However, we will only do this when we value the environment more, know how to protect it, and take responsibility for our actions. This requires education.

Education is the process of building skills, gaining knowledge, and inculcating attitudes. Today, many global conversations about education – including the indicators in SGD 4 – focus on education systems building basic literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge, seen as foundations for more advanced skills.

In future, if our planet is further imperilled, we may see building the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that protect the environment as education’s key task. It should certainly be given more priority today. Already, in a small example, millions of people are unaware of the environmental consequences of discarding plastic rubbish. Change will not be easy. Already, many education systems struggle to support all students to learn basic skills or acquire basic knowledge. Teachers are struggling to change their focus from rote learning to building skills. Millions of children are excluded from education entirely due to poverty, displacement, or other forms of vulnerability.

Governments appear more concerned about meeting their national development objectives, and the attempts to include greater attention to the environment in education are often pushed to the side. As such, key priorities for the next few years should therefore be to develop, test, run, and prove at scale – for example in a small city – a model of incorporating education about climate change into education systems. This would need a change to the curriculum, to teaching materials and practice, and to assessment and examination processes. Only in that way we will enable students to leave this system aware of and ready to act on their responsibilities to protect the planet.

SDG 5: Gender equality

Speaking from the field in Zambia, Terry Roopnaraine from our Social Development team explores the links between gender equality, social inclusion, and climate change.

Negative impacts of climate change disproportionately affect women in a multitude of ways, ranging from livelihood security to physical safety. Despite possessing skills and knowledge to play a crucial role in fighting climate change, women remain under-represented or excluded from decision making processes. Empowering women and girls is important to drive economic growth and development, but how can this be achieved?

Discover more about our work on researching the impacts of El Niño and mainstreaming climate change through Action on Climate Today programme.

SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation

Specialising in water security issues, our senior consultant in a Climate Change and Disaster Risk team Lucrezia Tincani looks at how climate change impacts the water sector.

Having access to drinking water and safe sanitation and hygiene services is key for ensuring good quality of life. However, every three in ten people globally still lack access to safely managed drinking water, and six in ten people lack access to safely managed sanitation facilities, which all negatively impact people’s food security, livelihood choices, and educational opportunities. Water scarcity already affects more than 40% of the population worldwide, a situation likely to be exacerbated by the projected increase of global temperatures due to climate change. Lucrezia explores how climate relates to water security and highlights some of the key challenges policymakers face.

Discover other posts in our Climate and the SDGs series – focusing on eliminating poverty, zero hunger, and good health; affordable energy, economic growth, and innovation; reducing inequalities, sustainable cities, and responsible consumption; climate action, marine life, and sustainable forestry; and peace and strong institutions, and goal partnerships.