On 5 June 2022, UNU-IAS co-organised a side event at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Regional Education Ministers’ Conference (APREMC II) in Bangkok, Thailand, presenting the findings of joint research with UNESCO on climate change displacement and the right to education. The session highlighted trends in climate displacement and the educational needs of climate-displaced persons, and discussed policy measures to ensure learning continuity.
The research was conducted in 2021, focusing on Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Tuvalu, and Viet Nam, and was one of the first attempts to understand the educational needs of climate-displaced people and inform policy to ensure their right to education and lifelong learning.
Opening the session, Faryal Khan (UNESCO Bangkok) spoke about the magnitude of climate-induced displacement within the Asia-Pacific region, and the associated effects being seen on school education and lifelong learning opportunities. She noted that issues of climate change and the right to education would be at the heart of the policy discourse at the Transforming Education Summit to take place in New York in September 2022.
Key findings from the study were presented by Jonghwi Park (Programme Head, Innovation & Education, UNU-IAS). These include: (i) slow onset events have created multiple and complex scenarios of migration, including those trapped at will; (ii) young children have been prioritised for emergency aid (leaving marginalized youth and adult learners behind); (iii) teachers need prioritised support when displaced (to avoid long absences); and (iv) education is not included in national climate adaptation master plans. She outlined the resulting policy recommendations including the need to establish international agreements and conventions to recognise climate-displaced persons, to ensure targeted interventions for combined vulnerability in national contexts, and to prioritise teachers (similarly to how medical staff were during the COVID-19 pandemic).
Philip Vaughter (Consultant, UNU-IAS) focused on small island developing states (SIDS), which due to climate change are facing risks from sea-level rises. He highlighted the influence of the media on the public image of climate-displaced persons in SIDS, and noted that communities’ connections to land can influence any mobility. Barriers to accessing education include work visa schemes that prevent migration and access to education and training, as well as urbanisation placing strain on school infrastructure. Dr. Vaughter underlined the need to include the education sector in resilience planning and funding in cities, and address culture and language in education policies.
Gwang-Chol Chang (Chief, Education Policy Section, UNESCO Headquarters) introduced relevant UNESCO activities and noted challenges in applying the international legal framework on the right to education to current global challenges. UNESCO has organised several studies at regional and country levels to understand the real impacts of climate change displacement and its evolving impact on the right to education.
Discussion highlighted the importance of assessing and building resilience in education systems, especially in cities in SIDS amidst urbanisation. Drawing international attention to the increasing number of people who will be displaced by climate change was also identified as a priority.
In closing remarks Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi (Director, UNU-IAS) underscored the increasing impacts of climate change displacement, which will prevent a true transformation of education unless urgent action is taken. As Asia and the Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions of the globe, the findings of the research by UNU-IAS and UNESCO are a critical step towards fostering policy dialogue and enacting tailored measures to ensure displaced children, youth, and adults alike can continue their learning in the face of climate change.