Climate change: We need to take action urgently

The climate emergency requires immediate action, but it also provides significant opportunities for colleges, writes climate commissioner Steve Frampton

Steve Frampton

The climate emergency requires urgent action, but it also provides colleges with a range of opportunities, writes Steve Frampton

Climate change is one of the biggest existential crises that we face. As a sector, we need to ramp up our action at pace and scale and show real leadership in our communities on sustainability.

It will come as little surprise to most that the climate emergency is a key issue of concern for students. In a recent Zurich Insurance survey of 7- to 17-year-olds, 74 per cent said that climate change was the most important issue, with many indicating that they suffer from eco anxiety. With COP26 just six months away, it is time to show that we are listening to our future and current students by supporting more people and businesses to be carbon literate and to transition their skill sets to drive the change we need to sustain the planet.

Tes magazine: Are FE colleges doing enough on climate change?

More: Labour's John McDonnell urges students to act on climate change

Opinion: Why climate change is at the heart of our curriculum

This is a massive opportunity for the FE sector. The green economy is vast. There is anticipated to be 1.5 million new jobs created by 2050, and all of them need to be “green jobs”. Climate literacy must be embedded into training and there are some key sectors where FE is ideally placed to be involved. From energy, carbon capture, transport, construction and agribusiness to fashion, health and social care and hospitality, colleges will be at the heart of training, retraining and upskilling for jobs in these sectors. The government’s recent plans for the future of FE through the Skills for Jobs White Paper and the emphasis on supporting the skills transition for greening the economy through its industrial decarbonisation strategy create fertile ground for colleges playing a central role.

As a sector, now is the time to show civic leadership and work collaboratively across the wider education ecosystem, regionally, and with employers and local authorities. This is vital because, as AoC recently set out in evidence submitted to the Environmental Audit Committee’s green jobs inquiry, college resources and expertise can be poorly understood, underutilised and insufficiently funded.

At the same time sustainability must increasingly be a key consideration across all the work that colleges do. There is good progress to date across the sector, with many making the journey along the Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges. Colleges are leading the way and increasingly embedding the “green thread” through their work. It runs through every area of the college, from the wider strategy to estates and the curriculum.

The roadmap supports a collaborative approach to tackling the climate emergency. No one college can do this alone and we know that we’re stronger when we address common challenges together. It was felt that the sector needed a coherent plan to support the sector to take action. So, alongside EAUC, the Climate Commission and Nous, we created a roadmap. It has been co-constructed with student governors and forms a basic action plan to kickstart cross-college action.

At least half of the sector has now adopted the roadmap. Some have adapted it to suit their needs and are using it as a guide. Others have taken it and embedded it into their strategy. We are delighted to see that some colleges have formed action groups, including all the Sussex colleges, who have adopted a collaborative approach across the region. Kingston Maurward College is working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

Another important driver of colleges responding to the climate crisis is governance. Governors are being put in the driving seat and this is reinforced with the modified Code of Governance (section 9). This modification will empower governors to take more action on this agenda. Student governors are receiving training from Unloc and governing bodies need to engage and work with them too.   

Another piece of the puzzle we need to address is carbon literacy across post-16 education and skills. That’s why I am delighted that there will be a new FE curriculum for carbon literacy which will be piloting in Brighton. We will be launching this tomorrow at AoC’s virtual Climate Change and the Green Economy conference. The event will cover several strands across many of the themes I have set out and there will be examples of great practice taking place across the sector.

The work of the FE and HE Climate Commission is driving this agenda forward, and AoC is working to bring college leaders together to continue to share expertise, practice and ideas, and to embed this agenda more widely across college policy priorities. We need to act urgently, at pace and scale. It does pose a big challenge, but it is so important to confront and to lead the way.

Steve Frampton is FE/HE climate commissioner and chair of the AoC Services Board. Tomorrow, the AoC hosts the AoC Sustainability Conference

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