Climate justice, climate education, and a just transition to a green economy all featured heavily on the agenda of the 2023 annual Conference of the National Education Union in the United Kingdom.
British educators are ramping up their mobilisation for climate justice. During its 2023 Conference, the National Education Union (NEU) advanced its work on addressing the causes and impact of climate change, as well as the necessary adaptation measures.
Broad motion for bold union action
The NEU passed a broad motion setting the course for decarbonising the union. The motion also requires that the union lobby the UK government on decisive action for a just transition to a green economy in the United Kingdom and around the world.
Speaking to the motion, Jennifer Cooper, Brent District Joint Secretary, stated: “We should all be angry in solidarity with our trade union sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Bangladesh and the Philippines where our government’s outsourced carbon emissions caused their schools to be washed away in cyclones and typhoons.”
Addressing the thousands of educators in attendance, Cooper warned that “well before 2050, if the world exceeds the 1.5 degrees benchmark, our strapline Save our schools is going to become a desperate and sinister call for survival. That is already the case in the majority world. We must hold governments to account but that can only be done by the whole trade union movement in the West waking up, getting angry about what’s happening and demanding a voice at the table.”
The motion also requires the union to call on the government to engage in consultation regarding both changes to the curriculum to include climate education and to school buildings, where mitigation and adaptation measures are imperative, considering recent extreme temperatures and other weather events that disrupt education.
Educators and climate activists
The 2023 Conference also hosted the first ever Climate Change Stall in the exhibition area with a focus on a just transition. The union’s climate activists led a series of very well-attended fringe meetings where union members were invited to devise ideas for two new union positions: Green Representatives and Environmental Officers.
The two new roles were agreed at the NEU Annual Conference 2022. Green Reps will operate within individual workplaces, whereas Environmental Officers will be District-wide roles. Both roles share the common purpose of helping to tackle the climate and environmental crisis and helping NEU members be a force for change on these issues.
The ideas put forward during the 2023 fringe meetings are now feeding into the first NEU training course for Green Reps and Environmental Officers which will kick off in July.
The fringe meetings also featured an intervention by Sifiso Ndlovo, the head of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) and a member of Education International’s Climate Network. Dr Ndlovo spoke to UK colleagues about the impact of cyclones on Zimbabwe’s school communities, providing a stark example of the worsening effects of climate change around the world and stressing the urgent need to act.