Seeing the Global in the Local: Climate change, sustainable development and global citizenship education

Submitted by Dr Kevin Myers, Academic Skills Tutor (London) on Tue, 10/03/2023 - 14:23

Voicing the question of the potential for intelligent alien life out into the universe is often juxtaposed with a more pressing counter: forget the universe; we need to find intelligent life on Earth first. Although such comments are intended as playful, the proposal has some merit. Are we alone in the universe, and given the complexity of such a search, where should we begin? One of the most widely known views on this question merged from the work of James Lovelock and his Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock (1972) hypothesised that assessing the potential for life on other planets may be possible by examining a planet’s atmosphere. This theory argues for a symbiotic relationship between the organic and the non-organic, between a planet’s geography, ecosystem, and organic life, which it supports. In this sense, the consistent maintenance of oxygen levels within a planet’s atmosphere can be seen as an outcome of the biological processes inherent in living beings upon which such organisms depend.    

This view of self-regulating planetary systems, of connection and interdependence, emerged largely from observations regarding our planet and the growing realisation that poor, passive participation in this delicate dance has the potential to bring about disaster. In the case of climate change, humanity can potentially follow extinction-level outcomes experienced by many of the planet’s indigenous species globally.  


The issue of climate change and global warming are not new phenomena. Scientists have publicly evidenced changes in the global climate since at least the early to mid-twentieth century, focusing predominately on changes in global temperatures and an emergent tentative link between increased carbon dioxide emissions as they relate to planetary warming. Following the discovery of damage to the ozone layer in the mid-1980s, we began to see an increasingly persistent degree of public messaging (coinciding with the greater expansion of international media), focusing on a growing acceptance of a correlation between human action and climate change. From here, we also see increased public awareness regarding the interdependence of planetary systems and the relationships between the environment, sustainable development, poverty, and global hunger. This also led, however slowly, to an awareness of the need for global cooperation and collective action in mitigating damages posed by uncontrolled human consumption of finite planetary resources. This was highlighted in various treaties between countries, beginning with The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) actioned in 1994. This path towards greater awareness of the interconnected nature of global issues is best expressed in UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) or Global Goals, which address 17 key themes related to needed collective actions, including the issue of climate action (Goal 13).      


The UN SDGs and similar initiatives require wilful cooperation, engagement, and participation between countries and within different levels of society. Yet, might this best be achieved? While direct government policy and civic engagement can be seen as important, so can education. Education has regularly been presented as the most effective antidote to poverty, social inequality, and marginalisation. While many forms of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., are addressed in legislation, these routinely speak to the symptoms of inequality, not the foundational roots from which they emerge. Many sociologists argue that the key to addressing inequality is to do so systematically, predominantly throughout the key developmental stages embedded within early childhood socialisation and education. In this sense, focusing on gender, the most effective recourse in challenging gender inequality is to address early childhood processes of gender socialisation and its policing within different fields in society.   

These insights regarding the relationship between education and mitigating inequality are also viable in addressing sustainable development and climate change. To this extent, Global Citizenship Education (GCE) has emerged as a learning framework aimed at galvanising collective responses to shared global challenges. This is achieved by embedding GCE teaching and learning resources within national education systems within participating countries (Oxfam, 2023). At this level of collaboration and engagement, GCE promotes an ethic of shared responsibility of each individual, as a global citizen, to act ethically in natural resource consumption, to treat and respect the values embedded within diverse cultures, and to pursue social and climate justice based on shared global citizenship. In this sense, through involvement in state education systems, GCE promotes the development of common core skills that can address universal challenges to global cooperation on behalf of citizens (Oxfam, 2023). The GCE framework also promotes the importance of interculturalism, expressed in promoting digital and cultural communication literacy (Akkari and Maleq, 2020). Such a resource addresses common challenges, including a call for a considerable reduction in anthropogenic climate change, by enabling meaningful engagement between global citizens from diverse cultural backgrounds (Børhaug, 2021).


Source: Oxfam (2015) Global citizenship in the classroom: A guide for teachers. 

This global citizenship perspective has emerged largely in response to accelerated processes of globalisation over the past three decades, where technological innovations and cultural pluralism within societies have created a growing awareness of worldview interconnectedness and interdependence. GCE can be linked directly to promoting universal human rights and sustainable development goals internationally and in the series of initiatives addressing climate action and ending global hunger and poverty. In the past, many of the issues addressed by GCE today were addressed sparsely within the discourse surrounding development aid for emerging economies. These debates have historically been largely marginalised in public life, where the success of actions and goals rested largely on the advocacy-based personal interest of educators and others expressed collectively by voluntary organisations and NGOs, such as Oxfam. For many countries, this was also the case with development education, which, in most instances, was not seen as a priority resource for learning and, as such, was not integrated directly into the state school curriculum. Over time, however, many governments, such as the Irish Republic, have sought to prioritise GCE within their respective education systems, including within initial education (ITE) programmes (Schugurensky and Wolhuter, 2020). 


Source: Cleminson (2021) What is Global Citizenship Education?


We live in a globalised world. The technological advances that have emerged over the past four decades have revolutionised the conditions in which people live and how each person engages and communicates in their global network. Similarly, people now have access to enormous quantities of data, freely available to all, with access to a computer and the internet. While this seems to provide unquestionable benefits, it also points to significant challenges for educators and policymakers. The most notable of these is the substantial number of conspiracy-oriented narratives and evidence-free points of view that regularly present themselves online. The proliferation of conspiracy narratives and the attention scholars pay to them has not emerged recently (Butter and Knight, 2018). Indeed, climate change conspiracy theories are not new, but GCE provides tools for combating false narratives and misinformation online, challenging positions that present opinion as fact. In this sense, GCE calls for a robust critical thinking framework for producers of knowledge (educators) and those who consume it (learners) globally.  


As noted above, a core aim of GCE is to provide a resource framework for educators to give learners a sense of active agency and accountability in their decision-making processes and reflect on the impact on the wider global community. However, this education-orientated approach does contain challenges.   One of these issues relates to how education systems can sometimes work to replicate existing inequalities rather than remedy them. Following Bourdieu and Passeron (1990) and Wood (2013), embedding GCE ideals of sustainable development in schooling has introduced this content into a setting in which knowledge becomes an unequally distributed resource or type of capital (symbolic). This can be seen, in some instances, to undermine the core principles advocated by SDG 17.   


Motivation in addressing systemic, multi-layered issues can be challenging to sustain. The scale and magnitude of these challenges can seem insurmountable. However, the key is not to be sullen or rely on simple answers or acts motivated by self-interest. Or, worse still, to project piety expressed in staged moments of invented kindness, creating virtue signals without any real purpose or depth. Instead, we can look to more sustainable actions, with frameworks of education orientated inward, which knits a primordial, foundational stitch between our everyday actions and their impact on our collective well-being. GCE can then work as a tool to motivate changes in thinking, as a growing feature of the human condition and, following Wallace (1996), lead to the pursuit of collective ethical practices as a default social condition.    




Akkari, A. and Maleq, K., (2020). Global Citizenship Education: Recognizing Diversity in a Global World. In: Akkari, A. and Maleq, K., eds. Global Citizenship Education: Critical and International Perspectives. New York City: Springer, pp. 3-16. 

Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.C., (1990). Reproduction in education, society and culture. [online]. London: Sage Publications.  

Børhaug, F. B., (2021). Missing links between intercultural education and anthropogenic climate change? Intercultural Education [online], 32 (4), pp. 386-400.  

Butter, M. and Knight, P., (2018). The History of Conspiracy Theory Research: A Review and Commentary. In: Uscinski, J. E., eds. Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 33-46. 

Cleminson, M., (2021). What is Global Citizenship Education? Global Citizenship Education Solutions [online]. 23 March 2021. Available from: [Accessed 22 September 2023]. 

Oxfam (2023). Our Work with Schools. Oxfam UK [online]. Oxfam House, Oxford. Oxfam.   

Oxfam (2015). Global citizenship in the classroom: A guide for teachers. [online]. Oxford UK: Oxfam.   

UNESCO (2022). Addressing Conspiracy Theories: What Teachers Need to Know. Available from: [Accessed 20 September 2023].  

The United Nations (UN) (2016). Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030. [online]. New York: United Nations.  

The United Nations (1994) Framework convention on climate change. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 12 September 2023] 

Schugurensky, D. and Wolhuter, C., (2018). Global Citizenship Education in teacher education theoretical and practical issues. [online]. New York: Routledge.  

Wallace, D.F., (1996). Infinite Jest. [online]. London, United Kingdom: Abacus.   

Wood, B. E., (2014). Participatory capital: Bourdieu and citizenship education in diverse school communities. British Journal of Sociology of Education [online], 35 (4), pp. 578-597. 



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