Education has an important role in saving the planet, conference hears

Students walk through knee-deep water at high tide to get to school, the result of climate change induced sea level rise, and their classrooms are unsafe, damaged by other extreme weather events. 

Council of Pacific Education General Secretary Neselinda Meta gave a graphic account of the current effects of climate change at Federation’s Teachers for Climate Action Conference on Saturday 9 March. 

“Small Pacific island states are being severely impacted by climate change, stopping students’ rights to quality education and teachers’ rights to decent working conditions,” she said. “In the heart of the Pacific Ocean, a silent crisis unfolds. Amidst the Pacific’s pristine waters, the lush greenery, countries are slowly disappearing, their very existence being ruined by climate change. 

“People are losing their homes, their land, their plantations, their culture, their churches, their schools, their hospitals. They are losing their sources of water supply, power supply, agricultural food and supplies, and seafood stocks. 

“Climate change is serious because people are dying from stronger and more frequent cyclones, flooding and bushfire. It is serious because people are being separated from their families; they are relocated away from their villages and their communities.” 

Land is being washed away in the small, low-lying island states like Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Belize and the Congo. “Communities have been dispersed, people will continue to migrate, not only losing their identity in the process, but also their cultures and languages in the long run,” Ms Meta said. 

She declared climate change as the foremost labour issue because climate change indirectly affects a range of human rights issues: “The right of life, liberty, personal security, access to education, healthcare and decent living conditions are all fundamental rights and they are under threat.” 

“The Council of Pacific Education and unions are committed to climate justice, as it is fundamental to the future of the profession, our Pacific, our children, our planet,” she said. 

“Every teacher should have the enabling conditions and support to provide climate change education. This means professional development is provided to teachers.  

“Climate change education has the power to not only prepare students, teachers and unions for the transition to a low carbon economy but also to shift the mindset in sustainable ways of living,” Ms Meta said. 

Education International Asia Pacific chief regional coordinator Anand Singh said we could no longer afford to sideline climate change. 

“Teachers are facing challenges personally and professionally [as a consequence of the effects of climate change],” he said. “Education facilities are among the first affected….We must ensure they remain sanctuaries for learning.” 

“We need to protect educators and their communities,” he also said. “Expect more from our climate justice campaign.” 

Federation President Henry Rajendra said the profession has an important role in saving the planet and civilisation “for the sake of future generations, our young people, our students in our care”. “We must educate, build and lead broad community support and pressure governments to act and act urgently.” 

Henry also reported to the conference participants on the recent victory in the Federal Court for the Gomeroi people in a Native Title appeal against a big mining company, Santos and their proposed gas project on traditional lands. 

Federation General Secretary Maxine Sharkey said: “We as teachers and unionists have the opportunity to educate and inform, to change hearts and minds and to change the world and this [conference] is just the start of that. We can and we will make the world a better place.” 

How to educate kids 

War On Waste and Fight for Planet A presenter Craig Reucassel, who declared upfront that he was not a qualified teacher, said it was an interesting balance trying to educate kids about climate change without scaring them. 

“I used to come out of a lot of climate change documentaries and be like, ‘well, you’ve just scared the sh** out of me and I have no idea what I’m going to do about it,’ and I think this is what we’ve tried to overcome [in the TV shows]. Yes, you’ve got to show the problem, but there’s no point just showing the problem if you don’t show what to do about it.” He suggested a similar approach could be used to teach kids. 

When you can link climate change and its effects back to something people use every day it becomes easier to understand, he said. For primary students, he proposed undertaking a waste audit or playground pickup to identify the source of the problem [paper, straws, paper towel, uneaten food, soft plastic, e-waste, containers] and get the students to come up with solutions. 

“Kids can get really creative…It’s not about getting the perfect solution, it’s about getting the kids involved.” 

He highlighted War on Waste resources at and resources linked to the curriculum at

Mr Reucassel also said: 

  • every school roof should be totally covered in solar panels 
  • money needs to be invested in TAFE to teach people how to put in wind turbines, solar batteries and pump hydro. 

Conference participants split up into two workshop sessions with topics including NSW Environmental and Zoo Education Centres and school sustainability, Organising for Local Climate Action, Eco-schools and Federation’s Environment Policy.  

Disaster, Climate and Adversity Unit director at Melbourne University Lisa Gibbs shared resources and strategies in a session about building mental health scaffolding for disaster resilience in school environments. Professor Gibbs and research fellow Phoebe Quinn are co-developing a resource to support teacher wellbeing while educating about the realities of climate change and ran two workshops about it. 

A panel discussion about union and community climate action in the regions featured South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris and Hunter Workers Secretary Leigh Shears, who discussed the vision for a just transition to a low carbon economy for coal and steel workers. ACTU Indigenous Officer Lara Watson said clean energy had the capacity to break the cycle of poverty in remote communities, where currently there are no jobs, and deliver cheaper energy to those communities. She also insisted the establishment of solar farms needed to be with consent. 

NSW Department of Education Sustainability Grants director Megan Lupton spoke about the Department’s sustainability priorities.