• Climate-U

Climate change education in Brazil: what role for universities?

By Amanda Salvia

The implementation of Climate Change Education (CCE) in Brazil faces several challenges. In the context of primary education, some of them are related to lack of resources, lack of incentives or interest to discuss the topic, and a lack of professional valorisation of teachers. Educational efforts to cope with climate change mitigation and adaptation must be transversal and multidisciplinary, so that knowledge is passed on consistently and involving the whole school curriculum. As guidelines for implementing CCE are not yet commonly applied, higher education institutions can support efforts related to that.

Contemporary society is facing more and more challenges related to climate change. In addition to mitigation and adaptation strategies, educational resources are a fundamental element to respond to those challenges. In this context, Climate Change Education represents a component that is added to environmental education and education for sustainable development. It generates knowledge about climate change and encourages behaviour change towards sustainability.

In Brazil, there are no specific guidelines for how climate change education should be integrated into national and local curricula. This is necessary to cope with the projections of the IPCC, especially related to the impacts in the Amazon. The country has been experiencing several extreme weather events with increased frequency and extent of impacts. Punctual and pioneering efforts bring the practical vision of the experience of educating for climate change and report on the need for CCE to be transversal and multidisciplinary.

For CCE to be successful, a key pathway is to bring action in schools together with university research. All actors involved in the process – university, school management, staff, teachers, students and families – must be willing to participate, interact and commit to the activities to be developed. Also important is to provide training and awareness-raising practical activities not only for teachers and students, but for the local community too.

In relation to these aspects, we can learn a lot from an experience in South of Brazil. For 18 months, a pioneer experience in the region involved the University of Passo Fundo and the School Cardeal Arcoverde State Institute. The school teachers received regular training on how to address climate change and sustainability in class. Important aspects to be considered include the difference between mitigation and adaptation, importance of empowerment and action, and the need for local and global efforts.

In CCE, there is a central need for students and teachers to work together in all phases. For the practical activities, teachers participating in the research selected practices to be implemented in the school. Improvement of the rainwater catchment system, preparation of gardens at the school, and dissemination of knowledge, through informative materials, are among the implemented practices. More important than the practice itself, is the movement generated with its planning, execution, and results. This involvement and hands-on practice with the whole academic community supports the promotion of sense of belonging, increased awareness, and behaviour change.

Having universities also involved in all phases can deliver more successful and sustainable outcomes for the schools. The partner university in the described initiative participated from conception and training development to implementation and final assessment. It supported the school to overcome the common challenges of lack of interest to discuss climate change issues and lack of professional valorisation of teachers, especially by providing all the material needed for classes and investing training time to discuss local impacts and teachers’ experiences and hopes. The university supported also in seeking additional partnerships with private institutions for financial investments to help overcome the challenge of lack of resources for implementation of practices.

This experience highlights the role of the university towards sustainability and climate action. The training and the practices implemented through this initiative helped promote sustainability and generate positive impacts in the school, which ended up having the potential to also influence the surrounding community. Much is discussed about the importance of educating for sustainability and climate change, especially children, due to the ease of their learning and passing on knowledge and practices. However, the importance and challenge of promoting a complete and comprehensive process to engage and train more schools, teachers, and students must be taken into account. As educational institutions engaged with teaching, research and community engagement, universities have great potential to support schools and communities in delivering Climate Change Education.

Amanda Lange Salvia is a Research Associate at the University of Passo Fundo, Brazil, on the ‘Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate’ research project. Her studies focus on the role of universities towards sustainability, the impacts of climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our special thanks to Dr. Vanessa Tibola da Rocha ( and co-authors for sharing this experience and for the initiative to train and raise awareness about climate change. Part of her study can be accessed in the article recently published in the Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education: Tibola da Rocha, V., Brandli, L.L. and Kalil, R.M.L. (2020), "Climate change education in school: knowledge, behavior and attitude", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 649-670.