Friday 08 December 2023

Climate change and sustainability focused professional development for all teachers of all subjects is essential to equip young people to live in a climate altered future, a new report has claimed.

Governments, international non-governmental organisations, academics and teachers’ professional associations must prioritise teachers’ professional development in order to ensure all young people experience effective school-based climate change and sustainability education, researchers say.

Researchers from University College London and the University of Stirling, working on the report for the British Council, found that while climate change and sustainability education features in half of national policy documents globally, this is often superficial, fragmented and focused on science and geography curricula.

Climate change and sustainability education is also represented and implemented in education through a range of terms including Environmental Education, Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship Education.

The study asserts that a new approach is needed to integrate climate change and sustainability focused professional development across the teaching profession.

Researchers say that teachers of all subjects and ages should have access to climate change and sustainability focused professional development during Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and throughout their career.

Teacher professional development should equip teachers to draw on their subject expertise to incorporate climate change and sustainability into teaching, and they should have the support of school leaders to engage with ongoing professional development. This should be recognised as a priority by the school inspectorate and policy makers, say researchers.

The report also recommends that teacher professional development should be offered in a variety of formats such as online and in-person workshops, access to free resources, and opportunities to engage with other teachers. It should be sufficiently flexible so that it is widely accessible, especially to teachers who have limited access to resources including technology. 

The report, Global Priorities for Enhancing School-based Climate Change and Sustainability Education, focused on three case studies of climate change and sustainability education projects led by the British Council’s Schools Connect programme in India, Iraq and Zambia.

The projects exemplified the varied approaches to developing and enhancing climate change education in partnership with international government and non-government organisations such as the British Council.

The report underlines the Department for Education’s climate change and sustainability strategy 2022 which states there is a need for school leaders to access and engage with high-quality professional development in the area of climate change and sustainability.

The report’s lead author, Professor Elizabeth Rushton, Head of the Education Division, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, until recently Research Director of UCL’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, said: “The vital role of education in responding to the challenges of climate change and the need to live sustainable lives is clear. If climate change and sustainability education is to be effective and transformative, a global effort is required to ensure that all young people have access to education which equips them to live hopefully with a climate altered future.”

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education at the British Council said: “It is more important than ever that schools can offer young people transformative climate change and sustainability education, but this must be appropriate for their context and culture.

“The report highlights the importance of holistic and cross-curricula teaching and high-quality professional development for teachers. We work with young people, teachers, governments and NGOs across the globe to develop education that works for them. Our Schools Connect projects in India, Iraq and Zambia are excellent examples of this.”

Notes to Editor

Follow this link to read the full report:

Summary of insights from the three country case studies


Environmental Education is well established in formal education in India which means India has a wealth of expertise and resources from to draw to enhance school-based climate change and sustainability education. Due to the size and diversity of India, each state has autonomy over the implementation of their education strategy, so any development of climate change education needs to work within each context.  Building on the extensive programme of EE already in place in India, we highlight two opportunities to further enhance climate change and sustainability education: enhancing both holistic approaches to climate change education and, teacher professional development. Environmental Education in India currently integrates a range of subjects including science, geography, social sciences. To further develop this holistic approach teacher professional development could focus on foregrounding current curriculum opportunities and identify further ways for teachers and school leaders to implement a holistic approach to school-based climate change and sustainability education.


Iraq’s climate change and sustainability education is at an emergent stage in comparison to other nations and contexts however, there is increasing government support for climate change and sustainability education including policy makers with responsibility for Education and the Environment from both Central State Iraq and the Kurdistan region. A key mechanism for developing Iraq’s emergent climate change education is the education and professional development of teachers. In the Iraqi context, this could mean that teacher education and professional development programmes incorporate opportunities for teachers to develop practice in relation to climate change and sustainability education which foregrounds the role of extra-curricular activities which include student-centred and arts-based approaches which engage and are supported by the wider community.


In Zambia, there is a need to increase the general level of knowledge about the causes and impacts of climate change that responds to the needs of diverse communities in Zambia. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to continue to equip Zambia’s population to adapt to the impacts already experienced, especially those which threaten two major areas of the Zambian economy: farming and tourism. Education, including formal schooling, has a vital role to play in this response and Zambia’s recent National Climate Change Learning Strategy provides a strong platform on which to build. Enhancing climate change education could include a focus on raising awareness of the links between climate change impacts and agriculture and supporting young people and their communities to develop agricultural practices which mitigate the impacts of climate change. Conversation is another key area of focus. This includes maintaining wildlife biodiversity and considering the ways in which tourism can be more sustainable and promote pro-environmental practices within and beyond the sector. Enhancing climate change and sustainability education could include supporting young people to further understand biodiversity in their local contexts and the ways in which this can be monitored and maintained.

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About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language.  We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2022-23 we reached 600 million people.