Education unionists speak at United Nations against climate change and for SDG implementation

published 27 September 2019 updated 3 October 2019

Education International’s leaders joined advocates from across the globe convening at the United Nations General Assembly this week, amid crises including climate change and threats of armed conflict, as well as a growing concern about progress on the 2030 deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood and General Secretary David Edwards represented teachers, education support professionals and other education workers during the sessions held in New York, USA, declaring a climate crisis on behalf of the federation’s member organisations in 172 countries and sharing the EI World Congress’ support for the global student movement’s variety of urgent actions.

“We are at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit declaring a climate emergency on behalf of education and education workers and our students and taking that message here to the highest levels at the UN,” Edwards stressed. “There is always a lot of rhetoric and talk surrounding these events, but there is also a lot of energy – we’re not only bringing the energy from the World Congress, but we are feeling the energy here toward a sustainable education agenda.”

During the Climate Action Week from 20-27 September, educators the world over mobilised and stood in solidarity with students, unions and other civil society groups to demand immediate action to tackle climate change, curb emissions and ensure a just transition.

In multiple sessions with diplomats and international organisation and civil society representatives, Hopgood and Edwards made it clear that progress on the SDGs, especially SDG 4 vowing quality education, depends on engaging educators and their unions as partners in building sustainable education systems.

At the launch of the Education Commission’s Education Workforce Initiative, Hopgood told the audience that “none of our goals are possible without engaging with educators and their unions. I want to assure you of our willingness to work with governments and other partners to strengthen education systems.”

She warned the audience that time is short: “Privatisation of education is one of the greatest threats to achieving SDG 4 and other Goals...In the end governments must be prepared to take responsibility and invest in education systems.”

In a session on education innovation, Hopgood underlined that the key to any positive outcome is a system that fosters free, inclusive education and supports educators with effective training and just compensation: “Effective pedagogy is impossible without systems that support and sustain our practice. And that’s our critical role in unions – growing and maintaining and fighting for these systems.”

At a UNESCO-sponsored session on the future of education, she also shared commitments made by EI World Congress to promote democracy, human and trade union rights and equity, to assert the vital role of teachers and other educators, and to keep fighting for the SDGs for a sustainable future. “Those who have education race ahead of those who don’t – in income, but also in the health of their children and the span of their lives and the ambitions of their grandchildren,” Hopgood insisted.