How does education and research figure in the UN Climate Agreement?

Published on Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Academic and student representatives at the EI workshop in Paris Academic and student representatives at the EI workshop in Paris

The Paris Agreement that was finalised on December 12th has had a mixed reception. For some it is an historic document that will keep global warming in check. For others it will deliver too little too late. Without repeating all of the arguments here this post is intended to just focus on what it says about education and research. Here there is some potential.

The document consists of 3 parts - Decision / Annex / Agreement. The 29 Articles in the Agreement are the ones that are potentially legally binding. For education trade unions the main references to our sector are distributed throughout the text. The most important one is Article 12 (Page 28). This refers specifically to education. It is the shortest article in the whole document consisting of just one sentence which reads: 'Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.' 

There are a couple of things worth noting here. Firstly in previous versions of the text it did not appear as a stand-alone Article. It was referenced initially in 'Finance' and then 'Capacity Building'. The decision to include it as a separate duty could be seen as giving it greater prominence and therefore one that as trades unions we would support. Secondly, in the final version the standard of duty is 'shall' rather than 'should' which is a stronger requirement. When it was in the earlier draft it was couched in the term 'should' which implies a weaker duty. Education also appears in Article 11(1) (Page 27) on 'Capacity Building'.

Research is referenced in Articles 7(7)(c) (Page 25) on 'Adaptation' and 10(5) (Page 27) on 'Technology Transfer and Development'. Here there is a mixture of 'shall' and 'should' but this still represents an opportunity to ensure that the research activities carried out by our members are recognised as a vital part of making the low carbon transition.

Despite the relative positive references on education and research, there are major concerns whether the agreement provides a framework for effective change. For trades unions our ability to intervene in the process has been compromised by the failure to put the duties on 'just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs' into the operational part of the text. This reference was eventually moved into the Annex (Preamble). The ITUC response to this and other concerns can be found here.

In conclusion, we have something that provides an opportunity to promote our policies on education and research for sustainability. It means that national governments and the respective education sectors will face additional pressure to address this issue. As unions we need to be sure that the workforce is effectively represented in this process.

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Graham Petersen

Graham is the National Environment Co-ordinator for the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK. He has attended UN Climate Conferences as a member of the ITUC delegation. He was a trade union studies lecturer for 33 years before starting his work on sustainable development in 2008.

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