The speech made by Nadia Whittome, the Labour MP for Nottingham East, in the House of Commons on 23 November 2021.
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require matters relating to climate change and sustainability to be integrated throughout the curriculum in primary and secondary schools and included in vocational training courses; and for connected purposes.
Madam Deputy Speaker, 2050 is the year that the world needs to reach net zero. This will require fundamental changes to every sector of our economy unprecedented in their overall scale. For some, 2050 might feel like it is a long way away. In the next 30 years, Governments will come and go and many Members of this House will retire, but for my generation and for those who are still in school—young people who have their whole future ahead of them—2050 will be the middle of their working lives. A child who started primary school this September will not even be 35. The world and the economy that they inherit will feel very different from those of today.
If our education system is not preparing young people to mitigate and deal with the impacts of climate change, it is failing them. If it is not teaching them the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a net zero society, it is failing them. If young people are not being taught to understand the impact of human interaction with the natural world and the need to maintain biodiversity and cut our carbon emissions, it is failing them and our planet. This Bill aims to put that right and to prepare young people for the future, and this Bill is what young people are demanding. In 2018, one survey found that 42% of pupils felt that they had learned a little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school, and 68% said that they would like to know more.
This Bill exists only because of the hard work of young people. School students from Teach the Future, who have joined us today in the Public Gallery, have spent the past two years campaigning relentlessly to be taught the truth about the climate crisis and to be equipped with the skills to tackle it. Their campaign has put this issue on the agenda; it now falls to us to put it into law.
The Bill comes in the same month that the UK hosted the COP26. If we want to know whether something was a success, we need to start by asking the people who have the most to lose—people such as 15-year-old Safia Hasan, a climate activist from Chad, who said:
“I’m hugely disappointed and hugely let down by COP. Coming from Chad, millions of my people are suffering but nobody is listening to our cries, our tears. It’s our planet, and it’s time to stop messing about with our future.”
Notwithstanding the disappointing outcomes on climate finance, decarbonising of the energy sector and just transition initiatives, however, I welcome the Government announcement at COP26 that they will take action to promote greater teaching of climate change in the curriculum. That is a key first step and a vital recognition of the importance of climate education, but a voluntary scheme such as the one announced can achieve only so much, and unfortunately the fine print of the announcement was such that it amounts to little more than teachers being sent PowerPoint presentations.
While teaching about the climate remains voluntary, many young people will continue to miss out. Teachers must also be supported to deliver climate education, given that 70% of teachers feel that they have not received adequate training to educate young people about climate change. This Climate Education Bill would make climate education mandatory, embedding it across the national curriculum and ensuring that all teachers receive training. It would be intertwined with every subject, a golden thread that runs through a young person’s schooling, just as the climate crisis and our actions to tackle it run through every aspect of our lives.
Whether those young people grow up to be a builder or a banker, a carer or a caterer, the climate crisis will affect everyone. We need to train the next generation of plumbers to install low-carbon heat pumps, and teach the next generation of chefs about sustainable diets and sustainable food production. This Bill would ensure that climate change is given the emphasis in our education system that it deserves.
The climate and ecological crisis impacts everything around us. Pandemics, such as the one that has turned our world upside-down for the past two years, will become more frequent as loss of habitat forces animals to migrate and come into contact with other animals or people. Climate education will help young people to understand the world around them and provide access to nature and opportunities for children to engage with our natural world. Some 57% of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England see patients who are distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment. The Bill would provide support for students to deal with eco and climate anxiety, which climate education will also mitigate, as it will empower students to understand what actions they can take to help tackle climate change and the role that they will play in the future.
I hope that the Government will recognise the Bill as a natural continuation of their announcement at COP26. I hope it will encourage them to go further—to legislate to make climate change part of the core content of all subjects, to support teachers to deliver climate education and to decarbonise the education sector much faster. Not only young people but our entire economy stands to benefit. Our green jobs and recovery plans lag far behind those of most G7 countries. The availability of the right skills and a keen interest in sustainability will pave the way to a productive green transformation and decent job creation.
I am delighted and grateful that the Bill includes among its sponsors the Chairs of the Environmental Audit Committee, the Select Committee on Education, and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. I pay particular thanks to the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his continued leadership on skills and training as part of a just transition to a greener economy, as well as for his personal kindness and support for this campaign.
It is important to be honest about the climate and ecological emergency, but it is also important to remember how much we still have to fight for. Every ray of hope and every inch of progress at COP26 was won through relentless pressure from activists and campaigners, especially those on the frontlines of the crisis. Change has always happened this way, and always will. The next generation are calling on us to take these steps, to secure their future. I want us to listen to them and act for them. Some of us may not be around to see the full results of our actions, but our legacy will live on. We must decide: do we want to be remembered for what we did or for what we failed to do? Young people’s futures depend on us. We must not let them down.
Question put and agreed to.
That Nadia Whittome, Philip Dunne, Robert Halfon, Caroline Lucas, Layla Moran, Mhairi Black, Yvette Cooper, Rebecca Long Bailey, Zarah Sultana, Darren Jones, Clive Lewis and Jeremy Corbyn present the Bill.
Nadia Whittome accordingly presented the Bill.