In an article for The Independent, the MP claimed the existing education system is “failing to prepare young people” for the workforce they will inherit and the effects of climate inaction.
Her intervention comes just five days before the critical Cop26 summit begins, with world leaders gathering in Glasgow in an attempt to thrash out an agreement to keep global warming below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Last week, unions urged the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, for a “comprehensive review of the entire curriculum” and suggested a new professional qualification for teachers on climate could be created.
Arguing the government’s climate targets depend on a transformative education system, Ms Whittome wrote that if ministers are serious about reaching the legally binding target of net zero by 2050 they “need the workforce to do it”.
“For all the government’s talk about the importance of skills-based education, it is missing a trick by failing to train the next generation who will be essential to the transition to a low-carbon economy,” the Labour MP said.
Ahead of a debate on the issue of climate change and the school curriculum in Westminster Hall — led by Ms Whittome — she stressed the education system needed to stop treating the “disaster” of the climate crisis as a “hypothetical future and instead ensure we are ready for what is an inevitable reality”.
“We need to ensure climate education is no longer exclusive to those who take optional subjects or briefly glazed over, but instead centred in all subjects,” she said.
“The climate crisis will affect everyone, whether they are a builder or a banker, a carer or a pharmacist. This means that climate education must be intertwined into every subject in a way that is accessible to all.”
At the last general election in 2019, Labour pledged to make climate change a core part of the curriculum — ensuring “all young people are educated about the ecological and social impact of climate change”. However, the party has not yet set out whether the commitment still stands under Sir Keir Starmer.
Addressing the imminent UN Cop26 summit, Ms Whittome added: “Whatever happens at this conference, it will be young people who will be left to pick up the pieces.
“While politicians talk about 2050 as some far-off point in the distant future, long after their careers are over, today’s school children will be in the middle of their working lives.
“Many will live to see the end of this century - and the full effects of climate inaction. But our education system is failing to prepare young people for this future.
“Whilst we’re told to list the benefits of climate change in Geography lessons, we’re not once taught about the historical events and political systems that catalysed the climate crisis, the social and economic repercussions that this catastrophe will induce, or what constitutes the possible solutions.”
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