This Earth Day, Every World Leader Should Be Talking About Education

On his first day in office, President Biden recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement, an international effort to address the climate emergency. In rejoining the Paris Agreement, the United States must define and commit to delivering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions over the next five years.

President Biden will announce the United States’ new emissions reduction targets in time for a Leaders Summit on Climate to be held on April 22-23 in conjunction with Earth Day. This summit is an opportunity for President Biden to lead the world — not just with an ambitious target — but in a shift to a people-centric approach that features activating our public schools in the climate emergency.

What does the education sector have to offer every world leader in the climate emergency? Quite a lot.

Job creation in all communities. Ensuring that we have healthy school buildings that meet modern standards, zero-emissions bus transport, and green schoolyards to support outdoor learning is an opportunity to create family-sustaining jobs in communities worldwide. In the U.S., the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act will create an estimated 2 million jobs.

Net zero Jennings Creek Elementary School | Bowling Green, KY | Courtesy CMTA Engineers

Emissions reductions within reach. As a major form of public infrastructure that spans buildings, lands, and bus fleets, school systems offer an opportunity for emissions reductions that are within the span of public control. The emissions from U.S. K-12 schools are equivalent to 18 coal-fired power plants.

Visibility in transformation and benefits. Schools are public affairs. Pre-COVID, one out of every six Americans stepped foot in a school building every day. Schools are a place to showcase what is possible in a clean energy transition and what a clean energy future can deliver in terms of the health and well-being of people.

Equity and Intersectionality. Our schools reflect the injustices that characterize our human condition as well as the struggles to advance equity. Climate ambition requires that we interrupt patterns of systemic inequity manifest in schools including environmental, racial, and economic injustice.

Preparing the Next Generation. Schools are the training ground for future leaders and looking through the lens of climate change, that has never been more consequential. Every year, the United States graduates 3 million students from high school. The mindsets and skills of those graduates will define the preparedness and the competitiveness of our workforce to thrive in a clean energy future.

Bolstering Community Resilience. In many communities, school buildings serve essential functions beyond education including providing meals, hosting voting, and serving as emergency shelters. Investing in hardening our school infrastructure can support adaptation and resilience against climate impacts for all and especially the most vulnerable.

As leaders of all kinds across the United States embrace their role in this all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above moment in the climate emergency, UndauntedK12, New Buildings Institute, and the Coalition for Climate Education Policy offer “Why K-12 Should Feature in America’s National Climate Strategy.” This white paper offers a national perspective on the urgent role that our K-12 sector must play in our national climate strategy. In particular, we urge state and municipal climate leaders formulating clean energy and climate plans to devise a strategy to activate their K-12 sectors that includes a call to action for superintendents and school boards.

The need for ambition has never been greater. In a 2020 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report calls on the global community to achieve a 45% reduction (against a 2010 baseline) in global net emissions by 2030 in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming and irreversible damage to the planet. The United Nations has warned that current commitments don’t come close to achieving that target.

It is vital that education and climate leaders alike recognize that all pathways to addressing climate change must target our school infrastructure and engage our school community.

Co-written by:

Reilly Loveland, Project Manager, NBI Sara Ross, Co-Founder, UndauntedK12
Bio More about UndauntedK-12 and Sara