Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Introducing climate change education in Lebanon is key to assessing its impacts and building more sustainable communities, experts agreed Tuesday, amid a regional conference dedicated to the issue. Schools and universities are considered a starting point for climate change education, and the participants of the Regional Experts Meeting on Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development in the Arab States, an event organized by UNESCO, agreed that its integration into the Lebanese curriculum was required to build awareness and climate disaster prevention skills among citizens.

“Climate change education develops people’s knowledge and skills about how to manage the rising challenges of climate change in terms of its impact on the natural environment, social environment and its impact on people’s lives,” said Mona Zoghbi, an expert in sustainability education and UNESCO consultant. “The important thing in climate change education is critical thinking and thinking for the future.”

Schools tackle environmental issues such as biodiversity, water and air pollution but rarely focus on climate change.

“Usually if you focus on environmental education in general it’s about knowledge and providing certain information,” Zoghbi said, speaking at the sidelines of the conference.

“But for climate change education it’s very important to build skills and learn how to do things.”

Through climate change education, young people will be able to understand what has contributed to climate change as well as its impacts on the future. Students would also learn how individual practices as well as those of industry contribute to the problem.

“If we teach them at a young age that keeping the light on all day when you’re not in the room is contributing to climate change, they might change their behaviors. We can teach them to start thinking about how to live and be more environmentally friendly,” Zoghbi said. “If we teach them about the causes of climate change we can help them understand how they can address these causes in their daily lives and in their jobs.”

Climate change was felt in Lebanon last year with a dry winter season causing various water and agricultural problems. This year’s winter, however, saw a slight improvement with snow, showers and storms battering the country. Yet, the effects of climate change are perceived over time and not reducible to a single season.

Although acceptable levels of rainfall were recorded this year, there have been prolonged periods of no rain, and water remains a persistent issue.

“This is directly affecting numerous sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure and wildlife such as insects and migrant birds,” Hasan Charif, adviser of technology policies at the National Council for Scientific Research, told The Daily Star. Charif explained that although these changes are taking place, not everyone can feel it.

“This is something the normal person in Lebanon doesn’t sense, but the farmers do a lot.”

Charif dismissed claims that efforts have been made to address climate change in education. He said that although there are attempts by the government to develop the curriculums, integrating climate change education remains a distant goal.

“There are efforts by the Center for Educational Research and Development to reformulate all the curriculums. We hope that they take the topic of climate change and sustainable development and introduce it to students from the elementary levels to university.”

Recommendations were made to the Education Ministry to develop policies and integrate a holistic approach and include climate change education in schools and universities.

“It’s called a whole system approach because it focuses on integrating different interdisciplinary themes,” she said. Hence, students will learn how climate change has social, economic and environmental dimensions. She also said formulating an implementation strategy about how climate change education would be applied in various schools was important.

Developing partnerships between universities and the private sector was another recommendation provided by Zoghbi. Students can then train in certain sustainability focused companies, something that would help them combine acquired lessons about climate change to work on the ground.

Implementing climate change education doesn’t only focus on youth, but also on teachers who would play an important role imparting information, she said. If teachers don’t know anything about climate change, it will be difficult to relay the idea to the students. So teachers will have to be trained on the issue as well.

Sleiman Sleiman, UNESCO’s regional bureau program specialist, echoed Zoghbi’s comments on the importance of training teachers.

“We care about education and learning because youth are important members of society,” Sleiman said.

“The best place to integrate such concepts and skills is through education programs in the middle schools, high schools and universities.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2015, on page 4.