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Compulsory climate education in schools needed for UK to hit net-zero goals

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College leaders in England have said the government’s climate ambitions will fail unless they make education on climate change and sustainability part of all study courses.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) said that less than 1 per cent of college students are currently on a course with broad coverage of climate education and that £1.5bn would be needed to transform classrooms and provide the equipment needed to train people for green jobs.

The body has written a joint letter to Boris Johnson, the COP26 president, the business secretary and the education secretary arguing that the ambition for a green economy is at risk without the next generation, as well as adults who need to retrain, having access to the education and skills they need to equip them for green jobs.  

The government announced its net-zero strategy on Tuesday with broad plans to decarbonise areas including transport, waste, energy, heat, and fuel alongside a widely criticised initiative to provide £5,000 grants to homeowners in order to install heat pumps.

But the AoC said these efforts will need to include both young people and those within existing workforces who will need to be upskilled and retrained to deliver the program.

Alongside compulsory climate and environmental education, the body also called for greater investment through the National Skills Fund to meet demand in growth sectors, like offshore wind, electricity networks, electric vehicles, low-carbon heating and forestry.

David Hughes, AoC’s chief executive, said: “The role of education and skills in tackling the challenges to society posed by climate change must not be underestimated. The government’s plans for the transition to net-zero simply will not work without aligning education policy with climate and sustainability priorities – that includes embedding climate modules in all study courses.

“Colleges' leaders and students have been crystal clear this is something they want and is necessary to meet the emerging skills needs of a greener economy.

“Young people coming through the education system now and in the near future will be the workers of the 2030s and beyond, they must be empowered with the knowledge and skills that will ready them for the green jobs needed in a green economy.

“If we are going to meet the sustainability goals, then addressing the system for young people alone is just one piece of the puzzle. Removing barriers to adults needing to retrain or upskill will be crucial in plugging skills gaps in priority areas.

“We are approaching a decisive moment in the climate emergency and only bold, joined-up decision making, investment and policy reform will make net-zero a reality.”

According to the CBI, an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK will need to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification to meet the government’s commitment to decarbonise the economy by 2050.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As we build back greener from the pandemic, we are committed to supporting people to get the green skills they’ll need for the careers of tomorrow.

“From skills bootcamps to apprenticeships, T Levels and traineeships, our programmes will create the talent businesses need in key sectors and help people at all levels to get the skills they will need for the green jobs of the future.”

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