How many counts to our last breath? Ghana’s role in education for sustainable development and climate action

Teacher Classroom Students A teacher with her pupils

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 Source: Ellen Lindsey Awuku

Humanity is altering the entire cause of climate and Earth’s sustainability at a very alarming rate. Our actions and inactions are threatening the whole fibre of our existence and driving us speedily to inundation.

Africa has seen a decline in iconic species such as the African penguin (almost a 90% drop) over the last 15 years due to pollution, overfishing and warming currents on the continent driving anchovies and sardines which the penguins feed on into more cooler waters.

In Ghana, unsustainable trends such as irregular rainfall have become a major threat to the Agricultural sector which is largely dependent on rainfall. Also, increasing temperatures have led to warming of oceans in Ghana and Africa as a whole, increasing ocean acidification.This has led to the erosion of coastlines, affecting inhabitants whose main economic activity is fishing.

Globally, digging of fossil fuels for coal, natural gas or petroleum, cutting of trees and other anthropogenic activities results in emission of Carbon dioxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere where they act as a thermal blanket that captures infrared radiation reflected when solar radiation hits the Earth’s surface, and warms the planet.

Of all GHGs, C02, which is the most emitted through human activities, has the highest concentration and contributes much to global warming.

According to the Paris agreement on climate change, we are to hold the increase of temperatures caused by human activities far below 2?C and pursue efforts to limit the increase 1.5?C or lower.

Scientists say we have a carbon budget for the entire Earth which is 3600billion tons of C02 to stay below 2?C. However, as at 2015, 2000 billion tons of C02 had already been burnt leaving us with 1600billion tons of carbon dioxide budget to stay below 2?C. Of the 1600 billion tons left, other gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons take up an extra 750 leaving 850 billion tons of C02 left to burn.

Currently, 36 billion tons of C02 is emitted per year given that we have 850billion tons left, should we divide that by 36billion tons, we have approximately 24years to reach our limits and tip over.

The world has just a few years more before disaster sets in yet more carbon dioxide is burnt daily for energy use, other industrial processes, land use and deforestation. It has become eminent, there is an urgent need to reverse the wheel, slow down GHGs emission and reduce the Earth’s temperature to well below 2?C.

Given the scale and severity of climate change and other issues of sustainable development, global leaders at COP 21 agreed on Education as one key factor for the development of skills and innovations to mitigate Climate action and other Sustainable Development (SD) issues.

The Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) though without a clear definition, would take up local social learning strategies to attain a global agenda. Each country is to adopt this strategy in their Educational Curricula from basic to higher levels so individuals can be abreast with the problems at hand and develop skills and innovations to resolve them.

In Ghana, the government has resorted to the promotion of Education and awareness creation among the populace from the basic to tertiary levels through offering access to quality education and improving the capacity of the educational systems to prepare people to pursue environmental development, including developing the educational curricula around environmental sustainability and training teachers to handle ESD.

The Ghana Education service is particularly concerned about climate change adaptation and its related disaster management and believes environmental education is the answer to the challenge.

Also, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana is mandated to manage, protect and enhance the country’s environment and seek common solutions to global environmental problems through an integrated environmental planning and management system with broad public participation, efficient implementation of appropriate programs and technical services, advice on environmental law and regulation.

Like most developing countries, deforestation, water pollution, poor sanitation, waste management and bad farming practices account for major contributions to climate change. Improper town planning and adherence to environmental policies and a general lack of concern and ignorance of the people is also a major challenge.

One way to curb these is to increase sanctions for perpetrators of environmental policies and resurrect the old system of communal labour where individuals work together to keep their communities clean. Also, the creation of more social media contents on environmental issues targeted at the youth (the Ghanaian youth is more social media inclined) and traditional broadcast media contents targeted at the older generation (as the older generation is more radio, print and TV inclined) would be an added help.

With regard to formal education, though the Ministry of education and Environment, science and technology and innovation and the Ghana Education service has integrated Environmental Education in the syllabus of schools to ensure ESD, the Ghanaian education system is more of a passive one where students only learn to write exams and forget.

The system does not allow for more practical and hands-on interaction with the environment hence there is no major impact on the environment or student behaviour. In order to make real and measurable contributions, there is the need to adopt a more practical educational system. For example, in course of teaching, students can be made to make a list of things they do from their homes to their schools and in their communities that contribute to climate change.

This list should be pasted in their bedrooms (to be read each morning), classrooms and social centres (to be read daily) to ensure a continuous remembrance of those things and a conscious effort to avoid them. Also, students can create videos and podcasts of environmental related issues by researching into environmental problems and sharing these artefacts among themselves and friends.

With the recent trends of excessive heat in the Arctic region and extreme cold hitting Europe, glacier thawing with the resultant rise in sea levels, water shortages in Cape Town, South Africa and degradation of crops and arable land in Ghana, there is an urgent need to adopt drastic measures to mitigate climate action.

It is not just a problem for just the global north or global south; climate action has become a general issue for the whole world and we must all face it head on, it is our call to save the Earth and save humanity!!!

Columnist: Ellen Lindsey Awuku