Climate Change

The Biden-Harris Climate Agenda Must Include Education

December 18, 2020  • Laura Schifter

As the Biden-Harris administration lays out its plan for governing, it has identified four critical priorities. Included in that list is climate change. Climate change is an umbrella issue—impacting every facet of society globally and here at home. With the widespread impact of the problem, we need to enlist all sectors to be a part of the solution.

Reports on the Biden-Harris plan suggest that the administration will take a cross-agency approach recognizing the pervasive nature of the climate crisis. Recently, the appointment of Gina McCarthy as a national climate advisor indicates that the administration is committed to a robust domestic climate agenda in addition to an international strategy. Yet often overlooked in media coverage of a cross-sector domestic agenda has been the role of the Department of Education. Neglecting this sector would be a mistake.

Our education sector presents both a need and an opportunity to swiftly move toward climate action. With 98,000 schools, 480,000 diesel buses, and 7 billion meals served annually, the education sector has a considerable environmental impact and needs policy support to reduce that impact. Schools have also been negatively affected by climate change—they have closed and had to provide services for children exposed to trauma in the wake of extreme weather events–and should consider strategies to build resilience.

Schools offer an important opportunity to increase societal sustainability and address the challenges of climate change as well. With 50 million children and youth enrolled in public schools, schools can drive climate solutions. From teaching climate science, to including environmental sustainability in career and technical education programs, to sharing the benefits of composting, our education sector can help youth better understand the knowledge, skills, and concepts critical for a sustainable future. Engaging students to prepare them for a changing climate can build our country’s capacity to address the crisis and recognize our individual and collective impacts on the environment.

With 98,000 schools, 480,000 diesel buses, and 7 billion meals served annually, the education sector has a considerable environmental impact.

Recognizing this all too often overlooked connection and to build a bridge between the education and environment sectors, the Institute’s Energy and Environment Program launched K12 Climate Action. The K12 Climate Action commission, a group of education, environment, civil rights, youth, and other leaders have come together to develop an action plan to support the education sector in moving toward climate actions, solutions, and environmental justice.

Recently, K12 Climate Action co-chairs, former Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and former EPA Administrator Governor Christine Todd Whitman, penned a letter to the Biden-Harris transition team urging them to include the Department of Education in any cross-agency effort to address climate change. Co-signers included former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other leaders.

In the letter, the signers acknowledge that “by including representation of education in a cross-agency plan, the Biden-Harris Administration can help to acknowledge the critical role education can play in climate solutions and help our country build long-lasting change to advance a more sustainable society.”

Children and youth across the country have been leading our fight against climate change, and we must empower youth with the knowledge and skills to advance a more sustainable world. Schools across the country have a considerable environmental footprint, have already been impacted by extreme weather events, and have a responsibility to prepare children and youth for their future. They must be a part of the fight.

To learn more and get involved with the work of K12 Climate Action, please visit

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