After a Sunday to collect our thoughts on week 1 and explore the maze-like streets of Marrakech, week 2 kicked off with a day focused on education and its relation to climate change. Countless people stood up to espouse the benefits of environmental education, discussing the need to educate the global population on the impacts of climate change and why they should care. Yet the most valuable contributions came from those who outlined the need for a two way exchange of information.
Discussions regarding environmental education typically surrounds the educating of our future generations in hopes that they’ll adopt more climate-friendly practices as they age and become the next generation of leaders and policymakers. This does not cover the whole picture of what is needed. While introducing the recently launched UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, Manos Antoninis of UNESCO mentioned the need to start viewing indigenous communities as partners in environmental education.
This open exchange of information is not only needed to encourage participative communication methods. Indigenous knowledge should be viewed as a vital resource for climate change adaptation. Jaime Webbe of UNEP gave the example of the indigenous Sami people in Northern Scandinavia. While talking to Sami reindeer herders they were told about the ways the Sami people know it is time to breed the reindeer by checking the softness of the reindeer’s stomach fur. Information like this must be protected and respected.
As often seems to be the case, few people acknowledged the barriers of utilizing indigenous knowledge in environmental education. Acknowledging the value of indigenous knowledge and its benefit to climate change adaptation is not enough — we need to elevate it to a standard where it is respected by non-indigenous scientists and policy makers. Webbe stated for the “need to change our appetite” in terms of environmental knowledge, calling for a validation mechanism similar to the peer-reviewed standard of academic journals that is relevant to indigenous knowledge. This indigenous knowledge must also be used in partnerships with the communities it comes from, avoiding the extraction of knowledge from an indigenous community without an open dialogue on the results of the study and how this information is being used.
As the day came to a close, it was clear that environmental education is no different from any other climate change topic. Inclusive partnerships, where stakeholders from various backgrounds are put on an even pedestal and given a chance for participation is crucial.