Sustainability in 2021 ... What happened and where next in Further Education & Skills

What has happened in 2021

What a year! 2021 has certainly been a different one.

During early summer 2021 the common belief was that the worst horrors of Covid-19 had finally passed and the World turned to embrace sustainability and to tackling the climate emergency together.

Remember the G7 in Cornwall over the summer .... promises made and focus aligned on tackling climate change and all eyes were trained on the global coming together in Glasgow at COP26.

Pre-COP26, the mad scramble to make promises, pledges to prove our green credentials and our undying commitments to achieve NetZero by 2030.

The two week 'climate extravaganza' went to the wire and some progress was made to achieve global pledges including:

- A new approach to Green Funding -$130 trillion towards net zero

- A new requirements for all listed companies in the UK to produce net-zero transition plans by 2023

- Nearly 100 countries agree to decrease their methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels.

- 110 nations have signed a declaration to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

- At least 23 countries, including five of the world’s top 20 coal power-using countries, have agreed to phase out coal power in the 2030s for leading nations, and the 2040s for the rest of the world.

Some good progress was made, not quite enough to limit global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius and more like 2.4 Celsius increase.

In the UK, an over worked news cycle missed the introduction of the 2021 Environment Act in November 2021.

Truly a new approach to tackling environmental issues including:

- Setting of new legally binding environmental targets to tackle air pollution and climate change

- Creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)

- New legal targets and rules for manging waste, recycling and charges for single use plastic products

- Additional control measures to tackle air and water pollution, improving biodiversity through conservation, habitat protection and tree planting

The Department for Education (DfE) has launched its own draft response via the Sustainability & Climate Change: Draft strategy, which is up for consultation and due to be published in April 2022.

Embryonic ideas include the following:

- 'National Education Parks' or re-greening of our education estates to improve biodiversity

- A system to support education organisations to review their supply chains and to publish their green performance data

- Education new builds to be carbon neutral through the innovative use of NetGenZero programme (modular carbon neutral buildings modules).

- A pledge to embed sustainability into the curriculum and to grow capacity and focus on green skills, training, and careers

At this stage it is 'draft' policy, and I will leave you to make up your own mind whether it goes far enough, yet?

The Association of Colleges (AoC) has started to provide the sector with further support following up on the FE Climate Action Road Map

The Green College Commitment was sent in an open letter supported by leaders in the sector to the Government (pre-Cop26) to challenge them to address the following:

- Compulsory climate and environmental education modules in all study courses in post-16 education.

- Bringing forward the Lifelong Loan Entitlement to deliver the training needed in priority green sectors and developing a system of loans and means-tested grants to target support on adult learners who could otherwise not afford to live while undertaking education and training.

- Investment through the National Skills Fund to meet demand in growth sectors, like offshore wind, electricity networks, electric vehicles, low carbon heating and forestry, to support people in jobs that are transitioning to redeploy their skills.

- FE workforce investment to ensure teachers have the resources and knowledge to train those moving into new developing growth sectors.

- Investing £1.5bn in the next three years in the capital budget to sustainably transform college estates and support colleges to invest in the innovative technology required to train for green jobs.

Other initiatives have included the AoC Beacon Award for Sustainability and supporting the Carbon Literacy Project.

This is a good start, injecting momentum and challenge into the debate.

The Government has also supported many projects being piloted by FE Colleges through the Skills Accelerator: Local Skills Improvement Plan trailblazers and Strategic Development Fund (SDF).

A significant proportion of these projects are focussed on developing 'Decarbonisation' in different sectors and building the capacity of organisations to deliver green skills, developing new sustainability courses and equipping Colleges with the ability to purchase state of the art equipment needed to develop the skills to deliver on the race to NetZero.

Areas of focus of some of the projects are:

- Decarbonisation of Construction: focus on renewable technologies, heat source pumps and developing home retrofitting solutions

- Decarbonisation of Transport: focus on developing the capacity of Electric Vehicle and electrical charge point instillation.

- Decarbonisation of Agriculture: focus on exploring ways to improve crop production, forestation & tree planting and bio-digesters to treat agricultural waste.

A new second wave of Institutes of Technology (IOT's) has also been announced, creating further capacity and access to new equipment, facilities and the development of new level 4 + curriculum. A third wave of national 'Green Skills Bootcamps' is also on the horizon for development and roll out in 2022.

What is next?

We are at clearly at the real 'start' of this momentous change and the necessary paradigm shift.

There is absolutely no value in criticising what has happened, as we are all new to this and it is about 'learning' and creating 'change'

We are all on the same page, in terms of accepting the scale of the climate emergency and the fact that we all must act now and together. We just need to come to a consensus on what and how to deliver the next part.

A few suggestions include:

- The sector desperately needs a framework to help support the implementation of the FE Climate Action Road Map. The plan is in place, but further support and resources are needed to guide the development process and some form of accreditation is needed to recognise achievements and to guide next steps.

- A system to focus the development of a sector wide approach to sustainability curriculum development. Awarding bodies are racing to produce new qualifications, which is a scattergun approach, which is not creating the correct type of impact, quality products and defeating the purpose.

- Colleges require a structured system to get their own estates in order in terms of reviewing their environmental performance, measuring their carbon footprint and developing carbon reduction plans. At present the only real mechanism is to 'buy in' consultants to do this work, which is not very sustainable. A national strategy to support the development of internal capacity to deliver this internally would work.

- There are still gaps in individuals and organisations understanding of sustainability and climate change. Levelling up our joint understanding of these issues is an important step that will help us all sing from the same hymn sheet.

- The DfE has the perfect opportunity to formulate a strategic plan that draws together and centralise all these strands together. The new Secretary of State for Education has already demonstrated a new welcomed approach to listening and working with the sector and has a great opportunity to lead the way on this.

The most important thing that I have learnt from 2021 is that we do have the capacity, will and incentives to work together on tackling the climate emergency.

2022 is a great opportunity to us to further accelerate, tackle and develop new collective approaches and solutions to tackle climate change and to ‘turn tragedy into triumph’

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