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Cut in cash for schools' climate studies

Urgent action to back environmental education in schools is being demanded as the G8 summit approaches. "There is a real disconnection between the high-level speeches by Tony Blair and the practicality on the ground," says Trewin Restorick, director of Global Action Plan, working with 145 schools to reduce their rubbish mountains, energy bills and water use.

"Increasing rhetoric in the G8 on global warming is not matched by any money," he says. Instead, about pound;10 million has been lost in recent years.

"Government support is at an all-time low," says Libby Grundy, director of the Council for Environmental Education. Less than pound;1m is allocated to the subject each year compared with pound;30m for music and pound;500m for sport.

In a highly critical Commons report issued just before the election, MPs damned the "fundamental lack of commitment" to education for sustainable development (ESD), government jargon for environmental education.

During the committee hearings, a schools inspector gave the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) two out of ten for effort on the subject. "The best that can be said about the integration of ESD into the national curriculum is that it is 'patchy'. This represents a failure of DfES policy so far," MPs said.

The subject is not part of the core national curriculum: elements of it are taught within geography.

"It is not at the forefront of teachers' minds," said Mike Wolfe of Create, a non-profit body trying to raise awareness of climate change. "Without a clear policy, schools need an individual champion, a teacher or head who pushes environmental education in their own school."

An overcrowded curriculum, and fear of venturing outside the classroom because of litigation risks has further eroded the subject at a time when "we should be driving this forward in the light of emerging scientific evidence and the need to think where our energy will come from in future," Mr Wolf says.

Yet even a successful 1996-2002 pilot which cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent has lost its funding from the Department of the Environment (Defra). Mr Restorick of Global Action Plan described the situation as a "game of pass the parcel". Defra had "thrown the ball to DfES and said 'You run with it', but DfES have not caught the ball. They have said they will not put money into these areas," he says.

A DfES spokesman comments: "We work very closely with Defra on a regular basis and we will respond to this report in due course."

Defra says it is committed to working closely with the DfES on environmental education, particularly in the field of sustainable development.

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