It is often said that awareness is the first step towards action. This is even more so for the climate change crisis, with health hazards, poverty and financial repercussions of the changing planet being borne by today’s youth and their children. Yet, a study by the Yale University shows that 65% of Indians are unaware of climate change. This is despite the disproportionate impact of climate change in India, such as facing the highest risk to labour productivity due to heat stress.
Climate change fails to be a mandated part of school curriculum in India after calls from governments and civil society. To date, there have been many one-off initiatives by the government, like the ‘climate change science express’ train. However, most of these initiatives have failed to get necessary traction. Moreover, they have predominantly been trial or pilot initiatives as opposed to climate mainstreaming in the educational system.
There are also some non-governmental initiatives, like the ‘Green School programme‘ run by the Centre for Science and Environment, which has thousands of schools onboard. However, none of these initiatives are long-term or universal in nature. Whilst some boards like the CBSE have climate change in their curriculum, the extent to which this is taught varies from school to school. This has made many young people start petitions, demanding all boards to revisit their curriculum and include in-depth coverage of climate change at an earlier age.
All of this requires action, particularly by young people. One such way is by signing petitions to demand change nationally or within your school or university. Students have been implementing bottom-up change too, such as giving talks and hosting seminars in their own communities. In a lot of schools and colleges, students are also educating their peers through action, such as pioneering recycling or championing other sustainability initiatives.
The scene at the university level is more promising, but climate change-based courses are limited. On the whole, connection to green technologies or clean energy is not being made at a majority of science or engineering institutes, for instance. However, there are some exceptions like the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune, which is integrating climate change in taught subjects at the undergraduate level, including topics such as climate mitigation technologies.
Research suffers the same ignorance, with very little research on climate change being done to date in India. This deprives academics the opportunity to investigate issues that are most pertinent to Indian context, such as climate adaptation. Given that climate change is a reality for many in developing countries, especially the poorest, local solutions are required to adapt effectively.
This also stresses the importance of South-to-South collaboration , or sharing lessons and learning from other developing countries on how to address climate change and simultaneously meet Sustainable Development Goals. To this end, the announced opening of the School Of Climate Change And Sustainability in Delhi University is a step in the right direction.
Finally, many university students do not consider climate change in their career planning. For instance, beyond moral or societal arguments to study or work in climate change, the issue presents a highly-impactful career opportunity, with areas like green technology, one of the fastest growing sectors globally. Most graduates are unaware of emerging and high-paying jobs in the field of clean technology, which may surprise many who view climate change as limited to social activism.
According to LinkedIn, emerging jobs in 2020 in India are all centred around technology. What is less discussed is how these skills and professions are helping tackle climate change, such as the growing use of artificial intelligence to address climate change. Tech giants including Google are pioneering innovative global solutions, such as their Sustainability Tools, which are capturing city level emission data, protecting and mapping our oceans and biodiversity, and helping individuals plan their sustainability actions using big data.
In short, the opportunities to tackle the climate crisis start from young people’s education and careers. Students in schools and universities can take numerous actions, from demanding universal climate education in national curricula to undertaking climate change studies and research at the university level. This awareness and knowledge can not only inspire lifestyle change, like youth-led sustainability initiatives, but also create the next generation of environmental professionals and leaders, who can use their career as a catalyst to create a sustainable future.