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UNESCO hosts global dialogue on impacts of climate change and displacement on the right to education

impact of climate change and displacement on right to education

The right to education is a fundamental human right, ensured and protected for all through various  international instruments which lay down legal obligations for national governments.

Yet, such legal provisions were developed over 60 years ago – long before climate change, and certainly before climate-induced human mobility, became a new global norm.

What became clear during the discussion at  webinar “The Impacts of Climate Change and Displacement on the Right to Education,” organised by UNESCO on 24 May 2022, is that climate change and climate displacement directly and indirectly threaten the right to education around the globe.

The event opened with interventions by Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, and Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, highlighting that as the framework on the evolving right to education is being elaborated, those affected and displaced by climate change are among the most vulnerable, and their explicit protection at national and international level is critical if the international community is to effectively achieve Sustainable development Goal 4 and leave no one behind.

Before entering into the specific barriers to education posed by climate change, Christelle Cazabat from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) recalled the pervasiveness and complexity of climate-driven forced displacement and human mobility today. Kehkashan Basu of the Green Hope Foundation then reminded the audience that climate displaced persons are not considered refugees under international law – a change that is urgently needed. Mathilde Tréguier from the International Institute of Educational Planning (IIEP) lastly analyzed how climate change and climate displacement both directly and indirectly impede the right to education . As opposed to those displaced by conflict or non-climate disasters, climate displacement differs in that slow-onset events  render one’s home permanently uninhabitable and therefore eliminate any possibility of continuing education in their place of origin.

While refugees are often also displaced permanently, they have protections guaranteed under international law whereas climate displaced persons have specific, compounding vulnerabilities which need to be addressed  yet no such protection under international law as refugees.

The general interventions paved the way into the Panel Session, where eight national and international experts from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Southern Europe responded to four thematic questions interactively. While the discussions were extremely rich and detailed, some common points of interest and accord emerged:

  • Both climate change and climate displacement affect the right to education in various ways, but particularly for those who are already the most vulnerable and already have the least capacity to adapt.
  • In almost every country's law and policy, climate displaced persons remain politically invisible. The right to education could be better enforced for climate displaced persons if they were a clearly defined and legally protected group;
  • There is an urgent need to harmonize disaster risk reduction policies, migration policies, and education policies to ensure a participatory and inter-sectoral approach;
  • While climatic disasters will likely continue, climate displacement is not an inevitable phenomenon. It can be prevented, or at least limited, according to the effective implementation of government policies and therefore so can the barriers to the right to education.

The results of this interactive dialogue – with nearly 100 participants and enthusiastic, sustained interaction from the audience will inform the development of the Global Report on the Impacts of Climate Change and Displacement on the Right to Education – to be published in 2023.