Robin Walker – 2022 Statement on the Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy

The statement made by Robin Walker, the Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons on 21 April 2022.

As the House will be aware, at COP26 the Department for Education launched its draft sustainability and climate change strategy for the education and children’s services systems. Since then, we have engaged widely with young people, educators, academics, sector leaders, and governing bodies in developing the finalised version of this strategy. I am delighted to inform the House of this strategy today.

The UK requires the education sector to play its role in positively responding to climate change and inspiring action on an international stage. The Department for Education and the education sector have a joint responsibility for preparing children and young people for the challenges and the opportunities they will face, with the appropriate knowledge and skills and opportunities to translate them into positive action and solutions. The vision in the strategy is that the United Kingdom is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. In England we will achieve this through the following strategic aims:

Excellence in education and skills for a changing world: preparing all young people for a world impacted by climate change through learning and practical experience.

Net zero: reducing direct and indirect emissions from education and care buildings, driving innovation to meet legislative targets and providing opportunities for children and young people to engage practically in the transition to net zero.

Resilient to climate change: adapting our education and care buildings and system to prepare for the effects of climate change.

A better environment for future generations: enhancing biodiversity, improving air quality and increasing access to, and connection with, nature in and around education and care settings.

Several major initiatives bring together activity to drive our strategic aims to increase opportunities for climate education and access to nature and increase biodiversity and climate resilience, co-ordinating and leading a whole-setting approach to climate change and sustainability.

First, by considering the physical education estate as one large entity, a virtual national education nature park, we have a unique opportunity to deliver improvements in biodiversity, contribute to the implementation of the nature recovery network, play our part in halting nature’s decline and drive greater climate resilience.

The national education nature park will engage children and young people with the natural world, directly involve them in measuring and improving biodiversity in their nursery, school, college or university, helping reinforce their connection with nature.

Secondly, a climate leaders award will complement classroom learning and allow us to celebrate and recognise education providers, children and young people for developing their connection with nature and establishing a sustainable future for us all. This award will provide a structured route through existing awards, and will be designed to support progression to employment and further study.

Across five key action areas, the strategy commits to ambitious activity that responds to recommendations for education from the Committee for Climate Change, the Dasgupta review, the green jobs taskforce report, and supports the delivery of the Government’s 25-year environment plan and net zero strategy.

The first of these action areas is climate education. In line with our wider commitments in the schools White Paper, we will support and empower teachers to provide excellent, knowledge-rich education about matters relating to climate change and sustainability. By 2025 we will aim to introduce a natural history GCSE, giving young people a further opportunity to engage with and develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

To support excellent teaching, we will include climate change and sustainability in science teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) to ensure all young people receive high-quality teaching on the scientific facts about climate change and environmental degradation. Furthermore, when DfE tenders new continuing professional development (CPD), we will include content on sustainability, where it is relevant to the subject area. We are also providing free climate education resources so that teachers of all levels feel confident in teaching this subject.

The second area where we will take ambitious action is in green skills and careers. It is critical young people and adults have the green skills that will allow them to build careers and participate as Britain leads the world into the green industrial revolution and strives for nature’s recovery. In addition to the extensive skills reforms set out in the net zero strategy, the strategy sets out how we are increasing the opportunities for young people and adults to engage in wider green skills and jobs needed to deliver the Government’s 25-year environment plan. We will actively support young people and adults to understand the training and careers opportunities available to them and we will support existing organisations in their endeavours to promote green careers.

The third area where we will drive change is in our education estate itself. A green, sustainable education estate that is resilient to the impacts of climate change will inspire young people to live sustainable lives, with impact felt widely in their families and communities. All new school buildings delivered by DfE (not already contracted) will be net zero in operation. The implementation of ultra-low carbon education buildings will be accelerated and by 2025 at least four schools and one college will have been built via the gen zero platform that we demonstrated at COP26.

The strategy also sets out action to ensure our existing estate is resilient to the effects of climate change. A strategic approach to piloting new building technology will also be launched in order to support the future retrofit of the education estate and act as catalyst to the construction sector for implementing new technology. Our building technology pilots will support action to adapt the existing estate to protect against the current and future effects of climate change. Our approach will be to innovate, test and invest.

Equally, we have set out action to ensure our operations and supply chains are sustainable.

Here, we have a valuable opportunity to drive change by introducing children and young people to more sustainable practices such as the circular economy, waste prevention and resource efficiency. We will start rolling-out carbon literacy training for at least one person in every locally maintained nursery, school, college and university to build their knowledge of climate change, access to public funds, engagement with the nature park and climate leaders award, understand emissions reporting and how to development a climate action plan. By attending carbon literacy training, sustainability leads will be able to share learning and training within their own setting as appropriate—such as leaders, support staff, caretakers, cooks and teachers.

The final area where we will make a difference is in the international strand of our strategy. We will work closely with multilateral institutions (UNESCO, UNEP, OECD and in the G7 and G20) and youth partners for exchange of good practice, through global discussions on climate education, learning and sustainable development. We will identify appropriate export opportunities for our climate learning programmes including the national education nature park and climate leaders award, sharing our expertise on flood resilience and flood risk assessments, and to export innovative sustainable products such as the gen zero platform and biophilic primary school.

This strategy thus encompasses actions and initiatives that will put climate change and sustainability at the heart of education, and I commend it to the House.

The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2022-04-21/HCWS777/.