SDG 4.7 and climate-change
The UN Agenda 2030 addresses Quality Education in Sustainable Development Goal 4. The goal and its target areas are embedded in and closely linked to the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, Quality Education lines up with other social goals, such as Gender
Equality (SGD 5) or Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10) both in terms of what they aim to achieve, namely the development of women’s role in social uplift, but also in terms of targeting equal access regardless of gender (SDG 4.2). Katia Vladimirova and David LeBlanc (2015) developed a comprehensive content analysis of 40 United Nations published reports, seeking insights on ways that SDG 4 informs the other goals and how other goals shape SDG 4. They note that while there are many points of connectivity, few causal and actionable connections are articulated such that the goals appear to be independent. A closer look at the goals reveals some of the connections: goals like those mentioned above address social injustices but they are also linked to economic maldistribution and development, illustrating the socio-economic orientation of some SDGs. Another main theme is ecology, and herein the challenges posed by climate-change. In terms of climate-change, one could argue that SDG 4 is connected to a number of other SDGs, among them Affordable Clean Energy (SDG 7), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11), Life Below Water (SDG 14), and Life On Land (SDG 15). However, as Kwauk (2020, 6) points out, only SDGs 12 and 13 explicitly mention education for sustainable development and climate-change together. Vladimirova and LeBlanc (2015) note, “The links from climate change to education are scarcely explored in our sample (of UN reports)” (16). Given the enormous challenge posed by climate-change and its consequences as well as education’s vital role in igniting and sustaining societal change, this low number of combined references requires attention.
SDG 4, specifically target 4.7, is an ideal place to highlight the importance of making climate-change an explicit aim of education universally and across the lifespan. As a key issue of our era (cf. Klafki 1996), climate-change is impossible to ignore if we truly want to “ensure that learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” (UN 2018). As a challenge for sustainable development, it is the one issue around which all other issues, including those mentioned in SDG 4.7,2 as well as all other SDGs and related global issues, revolve. Addressing climate-change as a human rights issue can help students become aware of shared responsibilities and develop a sense of global interconnectedness. Discussing climate-change, thus, also yields prime opportunities for cultural learning and global (citizenship) education.
Climate-change as a challenge for sustainable development
According to the Brundtland Commission, “sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future” (WCED 1987, 39). The role of sustainable development, as specified by the European Commission, is to “[provide] a comprehensive approach in bringing together economic, social and environmental considerations in ways that mutually reinforce each other." Correspondingly, education for sustainable development (ESD) aims at “empowering learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. It achieves its purpose by transforming society” (UNESCO 2014, 12). Grosseck, Tiru and Bran (2019) define ESD as “a holistic approach, involving the integration of major sustainable development issues into all teaching and learning strategies,” (2) with climate-change being one of these sustainable development issues. According to Van Poeck and Loones (2011), it “is learning to think about and work toward a livable world, now and in the future, for ourselves and for others, here and elsewhere on the planet” (5). Lambrechts and Hindson (2016) observe that “ESD is not just adding sustainability as an extra topic to the curriculum, but rather enabling learners to contribute to sustainable societies” (6). They further state that “[i]n order to deal with future sustainability issues, societies need to become flexible, adaptive and resilient” (7). The key role of education is stressed further by Grosseck, Tiru and Bran (2019), who note that, “education [is] a fundamental tool for achieving a more sustainable world,” (2) specifying that “without education for sustainable development we cannot manage to create a sustainable future.” Thus, educators need to make sure that in the scope of this education, the students also deal with those challenges that hold back sustainable development. In this regard, climate-change must be considered a part of quality education in the 21st century because the phenomenon relates to every other sustainable development issue of our time.
A transformation toward renewable energy sources is imminent as the availability of fossil fuels approaches its end of viability. Environmental pollution and health risks caused by smog or the threat of losing millions ofjobs in a carbon-based economy without replacement if change does not happen in time are just two examples of the socio-economic consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels. These issues can be linked to a variety of SDGs, such as No Poverty (SDG 1), Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3) or to SDGs 6—9 dealing with clean water, affordable energy, economic growth, and industry. From an ecological perspective, climate-change is a threat to biodiversity and cause of species extinctions. Moreover, deforestation, especially of the tropical rain forests, leads to a decreased C02-conversion capacity, which accelerates the process of global warming. SDGs 12—14 correspond to these challenges, addressing issues of sustainable production, climate action, life under water, and life on land. With regards to the social dimension of sustainable development, the eff ects of climate-change are just as devastating, which is underscored by social unrest and worldwide demonstrations like the Fridays For Future movement. Water scarcity and increasing desertification will force millions into migration, which bears enormous conflict potential. SDGs 1, 2, 3, and 6 can be associated with these issues, with peace and justice
(SDG 16) being at stake. Lastly, the number of climate refugees and internally displaced people will soar in the first half of the 21st century, as the World Bank estimates that as many as 148 million people will be displaced by 2050 (see Kanta et al. 2018). While some of displacements are not the direct result of inundations, for example, climate-change is part of the deeper, structural disruption that will lead to follow-on consequences, as wars over limited resources will precipitate refugees.
In sum, climate-change is the key issue that connects to all other issues of sustainable development. If climate-change is not taken seriously and tackled wholeheartedly, we will fall short in reaching all other sustainable development goals. In addition to these external links, however, there are internal relations within SDG 4 and specifically target 4.7 that call for the inclusion of climate-change therein.