As thousands of scientists, environmentalists, journalists, policymakers and world leaders prepare for COP 15, the crucial United Nations climate change conference taking place in Copenhagen in December, teachers and trade unionists are also mobilising to help ensure that a strong new agreement is reached.
Education International has taken ground-breaking positions on the central role of teachers and their unions in forging sustainable economies and healthy communities. Within EI, we believe education can lead the way towards a new green society; indeed, it is fundamental to the solutions we seek. We strongly support the process as international negotiators continue to work towards a new, strengthened post-Kyoto agreement on limiting greenhouse gases and mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change. At a recent UN leadership forum,Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told more than 100 international leaders that climate change is the pre-eminent geopolitical and economic issue of the 21st century. “It rewrites the global equation for development, peace and prosperity. It will increase pressure on water, food and land ... reverse years of development gains ... exacerbate poverty ... destabilize fragile states and topple governments,” Ban said. Solving the climate and economic crises requires unprecedented cooperation and bold leadership by governments worldwide, with the active support of an enormous range of social actors including the international trade union movement, which is uniquely placed to make a significant contribution to the struggle to save the environment. Already deeply engaged, teacher trade unionists will do all they possibly can to help find solutions. Across the higher education sector, academic researchers are hard at work at discovering new ways to reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Other teachers have different skills to bring to the work for economic sustainability and global recovery. Writing green curriculum, recycling at school, sharing eco-friendly learning resources, planting community gardens, composting in the school yard, helping kids create energy-saving science projects, restoring local habitat, organising environmental education associations, offering professional development that’s good for people and the planet ... All of these initiatives clearly illustrate the old saying about how people are so often ahead of politicians. On the issue of climate change, public educators are at the vanguard – both in their classrooms and their union halls. Around the world, children and young people are learning new ways of thinking about our relationships with the earth and one another, thanks to dedicated teachers and progressive education unions. But radical action is needed, not only by individuals and unions, but by governments committed to investing in quality public services, including education, health and water, as the basis of sustainable economies. EI and its affiliates insist that climate change is, indeed, a union issue. Education unions are beginning to engage in collective bargaining for measures to reduce the carbon footprint of their schools, colleges and universities. Some member organisations are already recruiting environmental reps who work like green shop stewards to promote environmentally-positive policies and practices. Changes is never easy. But in these times of multiple global crises it’s more important than ever that we work in a spirit of collective good will and solidarity to build a new global agreement to mitigate climate change. Educators hope and believe that Copenhagen 2009 will be a watershed moment along the path of history. By Fred van Leeuwen.