CLIMATE AND EDUCATION
THE PROJECT DIALOGUES:
SUSTAINABLE FUTURE SETS OUT PATHWAYS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
The event focused on the introduction of climate change and environmental preservation topics in schools and universities across the country.
In these times of planetary emergency, education is essential for the full exercise of citizenship, making the introduction and approach of issues related to climate change and environmental preservation in education at all levels, strategic issues for Brazil. Only with environmental education will Brazilians be able to decide with sensibility, wisdom, and sovereignty the paths of the country in the transition to the future of a green and sustainable economy. A path that requires an interdisciplinary vision of the theme, promoting inclusion and with the participation of civil society in its elaboration.
These were the diagnosis and recommendations resulting from the 23rd edition of "Dialogues: Sustainable Future", a project coordinated by the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS) in partnership with the German Embassy in Brazil, the General Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany in São Paulo, and support from Instituto Unibanco, in a seminar held this Wednesday morning at the headquarters of Instituto Unibanco in São Paulo. Among the speakers at the meeting were Jennifer Morgan, Special Representative for International Climate Policy of the German Federal Foreign Office; Ilka Hirt, Undersecretary for International Affairs of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection; Ricardo Henriques, Executive Superintendent of Instituto Unibanco; Dácio Roberto Matheus, vice president of the National Association of Directors of Federal Institutions of Higher Education (Andifes) and dean of the Federal University of ABC (UFABC); and Telmiston Pereira Carvalho Filho Guajajara, an indigenous representative, director of Culture at the National Union of Students (UNE); with the mediation of Marina Marçal, coordinator of the iCS Climate Policy Portfolio.
The event began with a brief introduction by Ms. Ana Toni, executive director of iCS, and Ms. Martina Hackelberg, consul-general of Germany in São Paulo. First to address the audience, Ms. Hackelberg highlighted how the project stimulates the exchange of ideas between Brazilian and German stakeholders on sustainable development, in a demonstration of the importance of the partnership between governments and civil society in tackling climate crisis.
"For the German government, the climate emergency and the transition to a green economy are essential concerns," she said. "But we definitely need the understanding and support of civil society to implement and advance measures for greater climate protection. As a matter of fact, the demands of society itself often provide the necessary momentum for this”.
Ana Toni, in turn, took the opportunity to highlight how the Brazilian civil society ended up having to take the lead in the climate discussions in the last four years in face of denialism and the little attention given to the issue by the government in the last four years.
"Over the last four years it was the Brazilian civil society that became the real climate diplomat, representing Brazil both here, with these partnerships, and at the COPs (the annual meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and that showed the world that Brazilian society, the Brazilian private sector, and subnational entities were willing to be part of the climate debate", she said. “We believe that Brazil holds a very important role in this debate, and these Dialogues have been critical as a vehicle for us to reaffirm this diplomacy that Brazilian civil society has been carrying out”. Hence also the importance of discussing environmental education in the country, added the executive director of iCS: "The feeling you get is that in Brazil education has not yet embraced the climate issue, and the climate sphere has not yet embraced education. Let's see what Germany has done, learn from it, and do it here our way”.
Opening the discussions, Ms. Jennifer Morgan, Special Representative for International Climate Policy of the German Federal Foreign Office, recalled the urgency of fighting climate change, with young people in particular calling for a speedy implementation of measures and policies to help tackle the problem. A situation that reinforces the importance of environmental education in Brazil, so that the country becomes not only a participant but also a leader in global discussions, because the more Brazilians are educated and have access to information on this subject, the more capable the country will be to exercise this leadership.
"We only achieve globally what we can do locally, and that's where education and empowerment definitely play a part," she considered, and then quoted parts of UN Secretary-General António Guterres' speech at the opening of the recent COP-27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in which he warned that the world is "on the road to climate hell," with the choice being "cooperate or perish." "I would add that the choice of shaping a fair and just economic transformation towards an egalitarian and sustainable zero-carbon future is ours, and we can create this future together”.
According to Ms. Morgan, this means protecting the environment, investing in renewable energy, and creating a fair and just bioeconomy in a process that must be led by society itself, and not "left in the hands of others," in order to effectively pull the world off the current warming trajectory well above the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015.
"We are fighting for a transformation that needs to be fair and just, and inclusive leaving no one behind, no matter their ethnicity, geographical and social-economic background, or their gender or age, one that pulls vulnerable communities out of poverty and helps fight famine and poverty as well," she said. "We came to Brazil because our government is looking for partners for this, for alliances; partners who share our values and with whom we can work eye to eye to keep this 1.5 degrees within sight, to advance an ambitious agenda of social and ecological transformation that is based on human rights and sound environmental standards. We think that Brazil can and should be a strong partner in this global transformation, pointing the way ahead in this crisis, because of its capacity as an environmental superpower”.
Ms. Ilka Hirt, Undersecretary for International Affairs at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, then listed the many aspects of German climate policy, ranging from environmental protection to forest restoration and the promotion of a circular economy, as well as its potential for joint projects with Brazil also highlighting the importance of civil society in this process, especially in the area of environmental education.
According to Ms. Hirt, this is the kind of initiative that should not be government-imposed in a top-down approach, but rise from within society itself, not least because each country has its own characteristics and needs. A mother of two children, she gave as an example her experience with environmental education in German schools, which is based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's 2030 program, divided into four "main pillars”: supporting students in transformative actions, "not just telling them what to do, but empowering them to think for themselves, question and confront"; fostering and facilitating structural changes in educational systems; leveraging the potentials of technological advances in education; and developing and using comprehensive criteria in all educational projects, focusing on participation, joint learning, and access to knowledge. "The German educational system encourages controversy and debate a lot. We discuss a lot in German classrooms; we can question what the teachers are saying and propose our own topics, and I am very curious to know what the school environment is like in Brazil," she concluded.
Continuing the discussions, Mr. Ricardo Henriques, executive superintendent of Instituto Unibanco, also emphasized the connection between environmental education and empowerment as a way to guarantee not only the fundamental rights of individuals but also the country's sovereignty regarding climate discussions.
"If we don't think of an ecosystem for shaping development towards a green economy together with education, we run the risk of having an agenda subordinated to the international process by not being able to create enough high-quality trained players to be connected to the new economy," he warned. "The challenge for Brazilian education is the repositioning of citizenship and, considering the inequalities we face today, to take a leap so that we can, simultaneously with the process of remodeling the economic development agenda, build capacity, and develop skills to be disseminated from early childhood to the graduate level allowing us to have a sovereign insertion in the new international arrangement, and in the training of the workforce for the future that we desire”.
According to Mr. Henriques, in Brazil this transformation of education goes through three steps. The first is the recognition of the deep inequalities in the country, especially in the Amazon region, where access to education at all levels, from kindergarten and elementary school to high school and college, is restricted and more precarious than in other regions. "Basically, Brazil goes on turning its back on the Amazon region ", he criticized. "But we also need to realize that this inclusion must be more than just listening, so that the population of the Amazon region also plays an active role in environmental discussions”. The second is to take advantage of the revival of the climate and education agenda after the setbacks of recent years in public policies to put together a climate and science literacy strategy that begins in childhood and permeates the entire education process in order to confront the culture of denialism nurtured by the extreme right in the country. "Beyond the obvious connection with citizenship, guaranteeing rights and empowerment, education must also project a society that refuses and rejects denialism," he evaluated.
Finally, the envisaged "leap" in Brazilian education must be articulated with an educational trajectory that meets the needs of the transition to a green and sustainable economy, to a new configuration of the world of work that is very far from the current Brazilian educational model.
"We must be focused on human capital qualification for this future," he summarized.
In this sense, Mr. Dácio Roberto Matheus, vice-president of Andifes, dean of UFABC and next speaker, highlighted the importance of inclusion policies. According to him, today about 60% of the students in Brazilian public universities come from affirmative policies. But giving access alone is not enough. These students also need permanence and student assistance that will allow them to complete their courses.
"What we can no longer do is waste the very rich minds and talent we have as we fail to give these populations access to higher education and give them the training to effectively address and participate in solving the problems we face," he considered.
Another important strategy pointed out by Mr. Matheus is interdisciplinarity, giving as an example a project started at UFABC 16 years ago. In his opinion, it is not enough to train an engineer if he lacks social, political or economic sensibility, or a doctor who can treat a runner but does not respect a traffic stop sign.
"We have to prepare people who, before being good professionals, will be good citizens," he advocated. "And here is where the climate agenda steps in. We have to train philosophers and social scientists to understand the limits of thermodynamics, the limits of the planet, the laws of physics, at the same time that we have to train engineers to understand and know that our technologies generate impacts on a planet that with seven billion human beings has unfortunately for some decades now been showing signs that it has reached its limits”.
The last to make his presentation at the event, Mr. Telmiston Pereira Carvalho Filho Guajajara, was an embodiment of both inclusion and interdisciplinarity. A law student at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) and director of Culture at the UNE, this indigenous person from a tribe in the Amazon region in the state of Maranhão called for more investments in the Brazilian educational system as a whole, since education is a continuous process, not a one-time event. He believes that Brazil will therefore be able to empower its population to address the challenge of climate change at the most diverse levels.
"Education about the environment is not just about drawing a tree when you are at school," he criticized. "That's the reason why the debate must be constant. We invest too little in science. But there is no developed society based only on humanities or exact sciences, either. Which is why interdisciplinarity is needed, to seek the solutions and possibilities that we so desperately need.”.
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