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  • Writer's pictureDirk Reber

The missing link - Why COP28 should prioritize nature and outdoor education

Much more essential than political agreements is our understanding of nature, which begins in education.

The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) is taking place these days - in good chronological harmony with previous years. The focus will be, once again, on stopping climate change, which is currently in full swing. And, once again, statistics and evidence are being presented that the earth is warming up at an unstoppable rate, scenarios are being reflected on what consequences this will have for the planet and the homo sapiens, and political and technical solutions are being discussed on how to reduce CO2 as quickly as possible and how to create sustainable living models while maintaining prosperity. Responsibilities and financing will be discussed: who bears which responsibility and what financial transfers are to be made from the wealthier to the poorer countries. And once again, everyone is hoping for a major breakthrough and a change for the better. And one thing is already certain: next year at COP29, these issues will be discussed again.

This article aims to critically scrutinize the content of COP28: because in order to ensure a sustainable lifestyle and responsible treatment of nature and the planet, much more is needed than just technical solutions to reduce CO2 emissions, political agreements and the establishment of financial transfers. Focusing only on these topics will not help to create sustainability and a sustainable lifestyle. It is just shifting the problem forward.

But how to create a sustainable lifestyle? How to make people realize that they are part of nature, which implies that we need to live sustainably to the fullest? How to influence attitudes and habits?

Sustainable lifestyles can only succeed if the value of the human-nature connection is understood.

As the global community grapples with the ever-escalating challenges of climate change, it is disheartening to witness a critical component missing from the political agenda of the COP28 — the absence of a robust focus on nature and outdoor education. In the quest for sustainable lifestyles and effective climate action, neglecting nature education is comparable to attempting to build a house without a foundation. It is high time to recognize that without a concerted effort to integrate nature education into the agenda, achieving genuine and lasting sustainability remains an elusive goal.

The Overlooked Foundation: Our ancestors, indigenous cultures and even science have been emphasizing for a long time that nature and outdoor education can cause personal transformations towards pro-environmental attitudes and habits. However, nature and outdoor education is the often-overlooked foundation upon which sustainable lifestyles are built. Sustainable lifestyles go beyond the technicalities of emission reductions and policy frameworks, delving into the very roots of human and nature relations and understanding. While COP28 discussions may be rife with commitments and agreements, the lack of emphasis on educating the global populace about the intrinsic value of nature jeopardizes the success of these lofty goals.

Empowering Individuals: Sustainable living is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it requires a nuanced understanding of the intricate relationship between humanity and the environment. Both nature and outdoor education empower individuals to make informed choices about their lifestyles, consumption patterns, and daily habits. Without experiencing nature, humans remain unaware of the far-reaching consequences of their actions and their role in shaping a sustainable future.

In many countries, outdoor and nature education is not even part of the curriculum.

Connecting People: Analyzing the COP28 agenda, discussions revolve around numerical targets and policy implementation. This focus risks losing sight of the critical aspect of forging a personal connection between individuals and the environment. Nature and outdoor education are the decisive keys to fostering this connection. They enable us to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, feel the relationship, understand its fragility, and realize the impact of human activities on ecosystems. Without this connection, the motivation to adopt sustainable practices becomes hollow and disconnected from the reality of our shared planet, and our only focus will remain on how to maintain prosperity.

Laying the Groundwork: Sustainable lifestyles demand a fundamental shift in human behavior. This shift is not merely a result of policy changes but requires a cultural transformation rooted in understanding and respect for the nature. Nature and outdoor education lay the groundwork for this behavioral change by instilling values of conservation, responsibility, and ecological mindfulness. It is the catalyst for a collective consciousness that recognizes the urgent need for sustainable living.

Igniting a Passion for Environmental Stewardship: Political commitments and international agreements have their limits. Real change stems from individuals who are passionate advocates for the environment. Nature and outdoor education have the power to ignite this passion by nurturing a generation of environmental stewards. These stewards are not only equipped with the knowledge to address climate change but are also driven by a deep-seated commitment to protect and preserve the natural world.

Nature Education as a Global Equalizer: The absence of nature education from the COP28 agenda perpetuates a global imbalance in environmental awareness. There are only a handful of countries which integrated nature and outdoor education in their curricula, the majority of regions and countries are left in the dark. If, however, nature and outdoor education would be considered essential topic in education, they could serve as global equalizer, ensuring that communities worldwide are equipped with tools to actively participate in and benefit from the transition to sustainable lifestyles.

Outdoor and nature education is practiced on a small scale, but should also be a priority at large global climate conferences.

Therefore, it is time to lobby for the inclusion of nature and outdoor education as a non-negotiable component of the COP agenda. Sustainable development is a holistic endeavor that extends beyond policy papers and diplomatic discussions. To achieve the ambitious goals set out in climate agreements, we must invest in the education of current and future generations. Arguing for nature education at COP is not a plea for an additional agenda item; it is a call for recognizing the interconnectedness of education and sustainability.

It is an appeal to world leaders and decision-makers to acknowledge that, without a widespread understanding and feeling of the importance of relations with nature, the battle against climate change is a half-hearted endeavor. The COP has the potential to be a catalyst for this change by recognizing and prioritizing the role of nature and outdoor education in shaping a sustainable future for all. It is time for advocating for an education that empowers individuals to feel their magical nature relation and to lay the groundwork for a sustainable tomorrow.


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