Most of the demands expressed by non-governmental organizations working in the field of climate before the Council and in the commissions in the Council were not included in the decisions. The clearest and most important demand of the Climate Envoys, formed by university students, was not accepted, on the other hand, “Getting out of coal in 2030”.
We talked to Burcu Meltem Arık from the Education Reform Initiative, which conducts studies on the Climate Council, the participation of young people in the process and the reflections of the Council on education.
Burcum Meltem Arık stated that the representation of the youth is important, but insufficient, and that the participation of children, non-university youth and those with special needs is not prioritized. Climate literacy, which we have heard frequently lately, is about democracy, the right to participate, the right to information, freedom of expression, peaceful protest, etc. reminded me that it is intertwined with rights.
How do you evaluate the Climate Council, which was first held between 21-25 February? Do you think the decisions taken are sufficient?
Before discussing the decisions taken, I would like to point out some basic problems. The first of these is the problem of participation. The council was held without some of the critical people and institutions involved in the climate crisis. The decisions taken in the commissions were changed at the round tables without the knowledge and will of the commission members. The council report has not yet been released. It is important that not only the decisions, but also all aspects of the Council are evaluated as a whole.
Problems in governance processes also point to problems in decisions. It will not be possible to achieve the aim of the Council in its current state, "to create a Turkey roadmap for green transformation with the common mind of all of Turkey with the active participation of all stakeholders in combating and adapting to climate change". Decisions that do not have an exit target from coal, that have a nuclear energy target and that make room for GMOs clearly show what the priority is in the fight against the climate crisis. Correct steps cannot be taken with problematic decisions.
Since I am from the field of education policies, I would also like to point out the deficiency in this field. Representation from the field of education was very insufficient.
There were also Climate Envoys in the 4-day Council. Who are Climate Ambassadors? Could you tell us about your contributions to the Council?
Climate ambassadors are university students. With the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, UN Turkey, UNICEF and Nature Conservation Center, young people came together on online platforms before the Council. Representatives from 209 universities from 81 provinces attended the youth session at the Council and shared the Youth Declaration they prepared.
Children and youth are among the groups that are unequally affected by the effects of the climate crisis. “Participation rights” in decision-making processes mostly remain only at the level of “taking opinions”. Opinions of young people are taken, but how and to what extent these views are reflected in the decisions cannot be seen or followed. We can see this in many things. I hope the situation will be different for the climate. Young people have made significant contributions to raising awareness of the climate crisis, both in Turkey and in other countries. They also expressed their views and demands in the Council. At least they shared the voices of a group of young people there. In order for the effects of these valuable efforts to go beyond this, different stakeholders must be in solidarity. This contribution must be democratized. Mechanisms should be established that will ensure the active and meaningful participation of not only university students, but also all young people, children, and their active participation in decision-making mechanisms.
Youth Declaration was read in the council representing 209 universities. How did you find the Youth Declaration in the first place?
I think it is a very important and very valuable start. I read carefully. To what extent and how the young people who prepared this declaration are involved in the participation processes after the Council is a more important issue for me. At the end of the declaration, “We, as climate ambassadors, have exercised our right to participate to the fullest.” they say. However, only one of the steps of participation rights is the preparation of this declaration and the right to be represented in the Council. I think the two most important demands in the declaration are "management of processes in a transparent and participatory manner" and "to be involved in decisions and to have a say in our own future".
Do you find it sufficient to have university students in the youth representation in the council?
I find it important but not sufficient. Participation of children, participation of non-university youth, especially those who will experience the effects of the climate crisis unequally and those with special needs should be prioritized. In the Youth Declaration, there is a demand that vulnerable groups should not be ignored, their grievances should be eliminated and they should be supported. To these justified demands should be added to the effective and meaningful participation of vulnerable groups in the decision-making processes. For this reason, it is necessary to go far beyond the right of representation in the Council.
As a result of the evaluation made by the Ministry of National Education Board of Education and Discipline in February, Environmental Education and Climate Change Course for 6th, 7th or 8th grades has been added to the Curriculum. How did you find the proposed program? Is it enough?
It is extremely important that climate change is included in the agenda of the MEB curriculum. We should also know that the proposed program is an elective course and that this elective course can reach a limited number of students. Elective or compulsory, teachers who will teach such a complex and critical issue should be empowered and provided with an education that is very different from a limited and online education.
Among the decisions taken at the Council, “The effects of climate change should be included in the curriculum for all education levels.” is located. This goal must be progressed rapidly only by taking into account the lessons learned from previous experience. Not only the effects, but also the causes and solutions should be included. Solutions should not be limited to technological solutions. It should go beyond the transfer of knowledge. Children should be prepared for the present and the future. This process should be carried out with their active and meaningful participation. Not only the curricula and course materials, but also the purpose and philosophy of education, and simultaneously the application methods of education should be discussed. In order to support the Earth's self-repair, it should be recognized that education is one of the systems that reinforces humanity's unsustainable approach. As it is late to take a step, the range of motion narrows.
Very recently, I was able to examine the program in detail. It is important to evaluate together with experts from different fields. I can say that very important issues and achievements are included. I find it critical, especially since I see the "Circular nature" unit as a cornerstone. Understanding how nature sustains life and the basic principles of ecology is vital.
However, I can also say that in the understanding of "development" that brought us to this day, the approach of "human can solve everything with technology" is insistent. I also see a lack of connectivity in the curriculum and the risk of misconnecting. For example, "Explains the problems that arise due to environmental pollution and the effects of these problems on human life." There is a gain and one of the steps towards this gain is “The impact of population growth, unplanned urbanization, industrialization and changing consumption habits on environmental problems is mentioned.” While working for this gain, if the main causes of environmental pollution are not addressed in their historical context, environmental pollution can be attributed to some poor countries with high population growth, and this may lead to incomplete / erroneous inferences.
There are also conceptual problems. "Natural balance, environmental ethics, natural resources, sustainable development" etc. critical concepts require in-depth discussion and critical approach. One of the areas where information pollution is most intense is the environment and climate. Accessing the right information sources without being exposed to this information pollution is another important issue.
The curriculum in question covers only secondary school. How do you evaluate that it is not at the primary or high school level?
We have to pull this before. It should start before school. I hope it is clear that I do not recommend talking to younger children about the negative effects of the climate crisis.
It starts with the steps of adaptation to their environment according to their developmental characteristics, acquaintance with the fellow species with which we share the planet, and the application of ecological life practices. Climate education should be developed and implemented at all levels and with an understanding of lifelong learning. Today, my mother and father, who are retired teachers, should also receive climate education. Everyone, each individual must be prepared for this and be empowered.
Recently, we have been talking more frequently about the emotional changes brought about by the climate crisis. Similar to ecophobia and eco-anxiety, studies show that these two emotional states are commonly observed in young people. So, what does this curriculum mean for children to combat these emotional states?
It should be applied with an approach that considers the developmental characteristics and individual differences of children. For this, I find it important that the teachers who will implement the course cooperate with their colleagues in the field of PCR. When I talk to some youth climate activists who attend middle and high school, they say that they feel guilty if they don't fight climate change. Some quit activism because of their anxiety and depression. For some, such emotional states are deepened by constant stress. This situation should be taken very seriously and programs targeting psychological resilience should be implemented.
Is increasing climate literacy enough to understand the climate crisis?
It may be sufficient if we describe climate literacy as “having knowledge about climate and climate crisis and transforming our life practices based on this knowledge”. How we fill it is extremely important. In its current form, it carries the risk of not going beyond giving information.
Democracy, right to participation, right to information, freedom of expression, peaceful protest, etc. climate literacy intertwined with rights.
Finally, what should we do in the education topic for this burning agenda?
It is inevitable that the education system will become resistant to current crises, reducing and mitigating the effects of crises, as well as preventing future crises. For this, the aim and philosophy of education, curriculum, course materials, and application methods of education should be discussed; Effective and meaningful participation of all stakeholders, especially students and teachers, should be ensured in these processes.
Education should contribute to the development of individuals and communities that adopt sustainable living habits in harmony with the planet. As one of the most basic steps of this, it should be realized that education is one of the systems that reinforces the unsustainable approach of humanity; The idea that our planet exists without limits and for the benefit of man must be abandoned. For the transformation in education, all areas of the development of individuals and societies should be focused on, equality, equity and inclusiveness should be the basis, without repeating the existing problems of mass education. In times of crisis, education must prepare students for the present and the unpredictable future.