top of page

CLIMATE LITERACY  by Ritchie Cunningham

The Importance of Climate Literacy

In an era of unprecedented environmental challenges, climate literacy has emerged as an essential tool for understanding, navigating, and addressing the complexities of climate change.

Given the urgent challenges of climate change and the need for informed decision-making. How can integrating climate literacy into education have a tangible impact on students and society? Let's explore the importance of climate literacy and how it can be effectively integrated into educational curricula to empower individuals to address climate change.


Definition and Significance of Climate Literacy

Climate literacy encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the Earth's climate system, the factors contributing to climate change, and the strategies for mitigation and adaptation. It involves not only the acquisition of knowledge but also the development of critical thinking skills and a sense of environmental stewardship. The significance of climate literacy lies in its potential to foster a generation of individuals who are capable of addressing and mitigating the impacts of climate change.


Why is Climate Literacy Important?

Climate literacy is crucial for a variety of reasons:

To understand the scientific basis of climate change: -

Climate literacy helps individuals grasp the fundamental principles behind climate change, including the greenhouse effect, the role of human activities, and the impacts of rising temperatures.

To appreciate the complex and interconnected nature of climate change:-

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences for ecosystems, economies, and human well-being. Climate literacy enables individuals to grasp the interconnectedness of these systems and the potential consequences of climate change.

To identify the human and environmental impacts of climate change:-  

Climate change is already having a significant impact on the planet, and these impacts are expected to intensify in the coming years. Climate literacy helps individuals understand the potential impacts of climate change on their own lives, communities, and the environment.

To evaluate potential solutions to climate change:-

There are a variety of potential solutions to climate change, but these solutions must be evaluated based on their effectiveness, feasibility, and potential impacts. Climate literacy helps individuals understand the pros and cons of different solutions and make informed decisions about which solutions to support.

To make informed decisions about personal and collective behaviour:-

Climate change is a complex issue with no easy solutions. However, individuals can make a difference by making informed decisions about their own behaviour and advocating for policies that address climate change. Climate literacy equips individuals with the knowledge and understanding they need to make these informed decisions.


Core Aspects of Climate Literacy

As global temperatures continue to rise, extreme weather events become more frequent, and climate change impacts intensify, being climate literate is more important than ever. Climate literacy refers to understanding the essential principles of Earth's climate system and being able to make informed decisions regarding climate change based on scientific information. Developing climate literacy on a societal scale is crucial for building resilience and adapting to our changing world.

There are several core aspects of climate literacy:

Understanding the basic science of how the climate system works - For example, the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle, how greenhouse gases like CO2 trap heat, etc. This includes how human activities like burning fossil fuels have increased greenhouse gases, amplifying the natural greenhouse effect and causing global warming.

Being aware of the signs of climate change - Such as increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, melting ice sheets and glaciers, intensifying extreme weather, and shifts in plant/animal ranges. Knowing how climate change is already impacting natural and human systems around the world.

Understanding the potential risks and consequences of climate change - From more frequent droughts and heat waves that threaten food and water supplies, to rising seas and coastal erosion that put communities at risk, to impacts on health, the economy and national security. Climate change is a threat multiplier that exacerbates existing vulnerabilities.

Knowing the different solutions and actions that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change - Ranging from transitioning to renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, preventing deforestation, building climate-resilient infrastructure, developing crops that are heat/drought tolerant, and much more. Understanding that climate solutions require action at individual, community, corporate, and government levels.

Being able to evaluate and synthesise climate science information - With so much data and news circulating, it is crucial to think critically, check sources, avoid misinformation, and make evidence-based conclusions about climate science and climate action.

Developing climate literacy takes time, but is a worthwhile investment for people of all ages and backgrounds. From implementing climate education in schools to raising awareness through media campaigns and public events, climate literacy empowers communities to confront the realities of climate change and build a more sustainable future. An informed society that values scientific evidence is key to solving the climate crisis.


How can Climate Literacy be Integrated into the curriculum?

Climate literacy can be integrated into education at all levels, from early childhood education to higher education. Here are some examples of how climate literacy can be infused into the curriculum:

Early childhood education:

In early childhood education, climate literacy can be introduced through activities that teach children about the weather, the natural world, and the importance of taking care of the planet.

Secondary education:

In secondary education, climate literacy can be integrated into science, social studies, and language arts classes. Students can learn about the science of climate change, the impacts of climate change, and the potential solutions to climate change.

Higher education:

In higher education, climate literacy can be a focus of courses in science, engineering, and policy. Students can delve into the latest research on climate change and explore the complex challenges and opportunities associated with addressing this global issue.


Education Level

Examples of Activities

Early Education

Nature walks, recycling projects, planting activities

Secondary Education

Debates on environmental policies, research on local ecosystems

Higher Education

Research projects on climate change mitigation, policy analysis



Secondary Education

In Secondary Education climate change should be interdisciplinary. No one subject area holds sole responsibility for teaching about climate change. Many subjects can have a locus in helping young people understand the issues associated with climate change.

Interdisciplinary learning opens the possible learning techniques and pedagogies that might be used, for example :-

Use active learning techniques. Engage learners in hands-on activities and projects that allow them to learn about the environment through experience.

Use inquiry-based learning. Encourage learners to ask questions and explore the environment on their own.

Use problem-based learning. Present learners with environmental problems and have them work together to develop solutions.

Use cooperative learning. Have learners work together in small groups to learn about the environment and complete projects.

Use technology. There are many educational resources and tools available online that can be used to teach learners about the environment.


There are many ways that teachers can integrate climate literacy into their teaching.

Such as -

In a science class (and in geography), teachers can teach about the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle, and the impacts of climate change on different ecosystems. In social studies class, teachers can teach about the history of climate science, the policies that have been put in place to address climate change, and the social justice implications of climate change. In English class, teachers can have students read and write about climate change, and in mathematics class, teachers can have students use data to analyse the trends of climate change.

Climate-themed activities and projects e.g. students could conduct a climate audit of their school, develop a climate action plan for their community, or research and present on a specific aspect of climate change.

Invite guest speakers from the community to talk about climate change. This could include scientists, policymakers, activists, and people who have been directly impacted by climate change.

Use online resources about climate change. There are many websites and organisations that provide educational resources about climate change. Teachers can share these resources with their students or use them to develop their own lesson plans.


It is important that teachers have a shared understanding of the basics of global warming and climate change and how their teaching and subject matter can contribute to young people’s understanding. A good place to start is for teachers to check out resources available from  Center for Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools - Climate Literacy Resources ( 

There has been an increase in stress and anxiety in young people because of their concern and inability to influence the climate change they see around them. It is important that teachers take into account the emotions and feelings young people will share with them and help them to connect with nature, learn about solutions, and develop actions to mitigate climate change. It may be helpful to illustrate the influence young people such as Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai have had despite their youth in influencing the world.

The issue of climate disasters must be addressed and although not all disasters are caused by climate change they can be exacerbated or enhanced by it.  Few can deny climate change is real, and we are already experiencing the impacts. Many climate disasters are predictable by seasons and it would help to plan a curriculum that addresses seasonal disasters such as wildfires, high heat, drought, flooding, extreme cold, and tropical storms. Long-term issues such as rising sea level, bleaching coral, disappearing glaciers and ice-caps can be examined at an appropriate time in the curriculum

Resources and Strategies for Integrating Climate Literacy Across Core Subject Areas

Climate literacy is too often left to the geography or science classroom. However, many other core subject areas can and should teach about climate change in an interdisciplinary way.

Examples include: -

English Language :  English teachers often have lots of flexibility regarding content of the curriculum, so long as they are helping students develop language skills.

English teachers can choose the books their students will read. The genre of climate fiction is a growing branch of sci-fi literature that deals with the impacts of climate change on society. Even books without an explicit focus on climate change can help young people connect and empathise with the natural world.

One possible activity is to have students explore their emotional reaction to climate related poetry. Discuss how the author evoked such emotions and discuss their purpose for doing so in their writing. Teachers can make their classrooms safe spaces to share emotions such as eco-anxiety.

Students can write their own climate stories, personal accounts of climate change from their own experience and observations. One possible lesson plan from Climate Generation shows how to engage students in listening, speaking, and writing activities related to producing a climate story.

Bust myths and combat intentional misinformation campaigns by building students’ digital literacy and research skills.

Nonfiction sources such as documentaries and newspaper texts and the recent IPCC report can be used to develop students reasoning skills.


Social Studies:  Climate change is not just a scientific issue, it’s a social issue. The social studies curriculum is already positioned to teach complex issues by integrating geography, economics, politics, and culture and engaging students in discussion

Geography is unique as a subject, straddling the Social Studies and Science curriculum. Ideal for discussing human-environment interactions.

The most important thing that social studies teachers can do is to prepare students for civic engagement – taking informed action on projects from environmental audits of the school campus to connection with the local administration on climate and waste related issues.

One resource that might help focus civic engagement is -

Giving students an opportunity to take action combats anxiety and can give a sense of purpose for their studies.


Mathematics:  To make valid interpretations about climate change rests on understanding of data. Mathematics teachers have a role to play in developing basic climate literacy in students through interrogation of numerical data.

A simple entry point for young students to understand climate change is to calculate their carbon footprint.

The following link give one approach to performing this task –

This can start a discussion on what variables, impact carbon emissions, which choices are in our control, and which aspects of climate policy we need to advocate for at the societal level.

One way for mathematics teachers to discuss climate change is by analysing data on natural phenomena. From weather patterns to changes in local biodiversity to mode sophisticated modelling software, there are appropriate data sets for every age group.

The following link from the Mathematics Association of America give a useful starting point.

Another activity is to focus students on the actions that might be able to keep global warming to below 2°C by 2100.

The focus of this activity is on policy-level solutions.



Climate literacy is an essential skill for individuals of all ages. By understanding the science of climate change and its impacts, we can make informed decisions about how to mitigate and adapt to its effects. Integrating climate literacy into education is an important step towards building a more sustainable future for all.


Ritchie Cunningham


Climate Literacy Articles and Resources:

1. Nurturing Climate Literacy: Empowering Students and Shaping Sustainable Futures (2023)

  • Summary: This article emphasizes the importance of integrating climate literacy into education at all levels. It highlights the benefits of climate-literate individuals and communities, providing specific examples of successful initiatives.

  • Key Findings: Early education plays a crucial role in fostering environmental consciousness, while secondary and higher education delve deeper into climate science, impacts, and solutions. Climate literacy empowers individuals to make informed decisions, advocate for sustainability, and contribute to positive change.

2. Climate Action Learning Process (CALP) (NOAA)

  • Summary: This resource from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a framework for educators to integrate climate education into their curriculum. It outlines seven key steps, from identifying a climate topic to evaluating teaching methods.

  • Key Findings: The CALP model emphasizes active learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It encourages educators to use a variety of resources, including simulations, case studies, and field experiences.

3. Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) (2017)

  • Summary: CLEAN is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting climate literacy through education and research. Their website offers a wealth of resources, including curriculum frameworks, lesson plans, and professional development opportunities for educators.

  • Key Findings: CLEAN's Climate Literacy Framework outlines essential learning objectives for students, focusing on understanding the climate system, human impacts, and potential solutions. Their resources are designed to be accessible and adaptable for different grade levels and contexts.

4. 10 resources for improving corporate climate literacy (GreenBiz, 2023)

  • Summary: This article focuses on improving climate literacy within businesses and organizations. It highlights ten specific resources, including training programs, online learning platforms, and sustainability consulting services.

  • Key Findings: Investing in climate literacy can benefit businesses by improving decision-making, reducing risks, and attracting and retaining talent. The article offers a practical guide for companies looking to enhance their understanding of climate change and its implications.

5. Climate Change Resources for Educators and Students (US EPA)

  • Summary: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a comprehensive collection of resources on climate change for educators and students. These resources cover topics such as climate science, impacts, mitigation strategies, and what individuals can do to help.

  • Key Findings: The EPA resources are up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and easy to navigate. They offer a variety of learning tools, including interactive maps, videos, and downloadable activities.


6.Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (2017)

·         Summary: This book by Paul Hawken outlines a hundred actionable solutions to climate change, ranging from energy efficiency to renewable energy to changes in land use.

·         Key Findings: Drawdown offers a hopeful and practical vision for addressing climate change. It highlights the potential for rapid and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and emphasizes the power of collective action.

·         Link:


7. Fostering climate literacy through addressing misconceptions (2020)

This literature analysis synthesizes student misconceptions that act as barriers to learning core climate literacy concepts. Key strategies for addressing misconceptions include activating prior knowledge, introducing cognitive dissonance, having students justify claims based on evidence, and integrating metacognition.

The research highlights gaps in climate education as well as strategies like open educational resources, place-based learning, and addressing misconceptions that can promote greater climate literacy to equip youth to create solutions.


8. Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences

This guide from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program provides 7 essential principles that students should understand to be climate literate. These include concepts like how climate is regulated by complex interactions, how life affects climate, and that climate varies naturally but is currently being disrupted by human activities.


9. Climate Change Education

Climate change is about so much more than rising temperatures. Its consequences are far-reaching and they're intensifying. Responding to the challenges created by climate change will take an all-hands-on-deck approach—and educators of every stripe, working in settings across the educational spectrum, will have a big role to play.


10. Climate change in the classroom: UNESCO course for secondary teachers on climate change education for sustainable development


11. Climate change education for sustainable development: the UNESCO climate change initiative

In summary, these publicly available resources provide frameworks, teaching principles, and techniques educators at all levels can utilise to effectively nurture greater public understanding and action around this critical issue.

I hope these summaries and resources provide a helpful starting point for your exploration of climate literacy. Remember, climate literacy is a journey, not a destination. There are always new things to learn and new ways to take action.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page