Climate Change is Threatening Education Financing

This article originally appeared in the Global Partnership for Education blog.

The climate crisis is threatening every aspect of development, including education, across many lower-income countries.

The average number of disasters caused by natural hazards—including heatwaves, floods, droughts and tropical storms—has increased in the last 20 years from 200 to over 400 a year, an increase predicted to rise further by 320% in the next 20 years. A child born in 2020 will face up to 7 times more extreme weather events than their grandparents throughout their lifetime.

Unfortunately, the intersection of climate change and education financing, which could have significant implications for the future, is not well understood today.

Data-backed evidence on the effect of climate change on education outcomes/financing and vice versa is limited today. But given the rapidly increasing pressures on governments in lower-income countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change, there is an imperative to understand the effects of climate change on education financing and identify innovations and good practice to finance climate-smart education systems.

As a first step to better understand this relationship we worked with Dalberg to produce a literature review of the current research and map out the available data.

Some of the key findings from this initial work include:

Climate-driven disasters are already significantly affecting children’s education, particularly for girls.

Children’s education in the aftermath of climate-driven disasters is affected both directly (damaged education infrastructure, physical injuries hindering attendance) and indirectly (lack of nutritious food affecting in-class concentration).

Many of these effects are more profound for girls, especially in poorer households in lower-income countries. For example, parents may not feel comfortable sending girls to temporary school facilities due to safety concerns and girls might be expected to shoulder a larger portion of the increased household chores resulting from disasters.

While households prioritize education even in the aftermath of disasters – climate induced or otherwise – when faced with significant financial pressure or perceived existential threats, households reduce their education spending.

Education is largely overlooked in government and aid efforts toward climate action and disaster relief.

Most governments do not seem to consider education in their climate and disaster investments. While there is greater recognition of the importance of education by donors, their funding allocation does not reflect that recognition.

Data from the OECD CRS database suggests that in 2020, education-oriented climate sector aid accounted for just ~1.3% of total climate-oriented bilateral aid by DAC countries.

Increased external aid for climate action is being prioritized while aid for education is declining, but the impact on government education spending and investments are unclear.

The proportion of ODA towards climate action has been steadily increasing from 21.7% in 2013 to 33.4% in 2020, while the proportion of ODA towards education has been steadily declining from 11.7% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2020.

While there is acknowledgment that climate change will create significant increased costs for governments while potentially reducing tax revenues, there is no analysis of this relationship across lower-income countries so far, or of longer-term development impacts.

Government action to enhance the prominence of education’s role in climate change adaptation and mitigation is also limited, as is action to mainstream climate considerations in the education sector.

Evidence suggests that governments are comfortable making commitments in voluntary settings, for example signing up to the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development. However, education does not yet have a prominent role in settings that come with a level of accountability attached, such as in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Concrete government action on this front is also limited, with most national education sector plans or curricula not meaningfully including climate change. According to a global survey covering 68 high disaster risk countries, nearly 60% of countries surveyed have either disaster risk reduction or disaster response components in their education sector plan, but the details tend to be very limited.

There is also significant regional variation, with national curricula in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania having much higher inclusion of climate change.

Climate change has serious implications for education funding because it drives the need for additional investments.

Limited funding from governments, households and donors may be reprioritized away from education and towards other sectors in response to climate emergencies and slow onset climate-induced disasters.

Given the rapidly increasing pressures on governments to adapt to and mitigate climate change, there is an imperative to understand the effects of climate change on education financing better.

Education is an underestimated but critical pillar of climate action, presenting an opportunity for both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Robust education systems can boost the resilience of students and their communities to adapt and respond to climate change, act as agents of change, and prepare young people for future green economies and careers related to climate adaptation.

But building climate-smart education systems will require increased investments from governments and the international community, including for upgrading school infrastructure to be climate-resilient, improving data systems to track risks and build risk awareness, enhancing teacher training and curricula, all the while ensuring quality education opportunities for children that allow them to acquire green skills later.

So what’s next?

Save the Children, GPE and other partners are now launching the second phase of the project, conducting data analysis and producing country case studies with the publication of a final report this spring.

Through this joint work, we are assessing the evidence and available data to understand the effects of climate change on education financing and identify innovations and good practice to finance climate-smart education systems.

We hope this will both help to crowd in more research on this topic, as well as continue to encourage governments and donors to see education as a critical pillar to tackle climate change.

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