An Taisce made a submission on the draft specification for the proposed new Climate Action and Sustainable Development Leaving Certificate. The consultation was in survey format and a PDF copy of our response is available here. For ease of reading, however, our points are also listed below.



·        An Taisce very much welcomes this Draft Specification and the rationale and aims behind it. We believe it will be an excellent addition to the broader leaving certificate curriculum.

·        It is very positive to see that students will “examine their role as global citizens, exploring the systems which govern decision making, the drivers of global poverty and environmental injustice

·        We welcome the fact that “the interplay of socio-economic, institutional and technological activities, e.g. economic growth, agricultural intensification, urbanisation, transportation, information transfer, rising energy use, etc.” will be considered “root causes of environmental change”.

·        We welcome the consideration of alternative economic models, including degrowth – the fostering and facilitation of the imagination of alternative ways of organising or economies and societies, which can better allow people to live in alignment with their values is fundamentally important. The focus on climate justice, especially at a global level, is also critical.

·        There is very welcome emphasis on climate emotions as valid, on the importance of creating space for the expression of emotions, and on a necessary balance between optimism and realism.

·        Similarly, it is very positive to see a discussion of individual actions alone as insufficient in themselves but a necessary ingredient to collective action.

·        Another welcome feature of the Draft Specification is, in fact, an absence - it is very positive to see that there the curriculum lacks a heavy emphasis on purely technological solutions, such as carbon credits and offsets, carbon capture and storage, sustainable aviation fuel, anaerobic digestion, AI etc. It will be important to include a critique of “technological optimism” and approaches that seemingly allow us to continue with business as usual but which fail to adequately reduce emissions and address environmental destruction.



Areas for Improvement

·        In the Rationale, it states that, “We must ensure that human needs are met without breaching critical environmental limits.” This phrase highlights an important issue that is not currently well addressed in any of the strands: what are human needs? What does it mean to thrive? What influences our understanding of what it means to live well? There is considerable opportunity here to engage students in a discussion of biospheric versus materialist values, and to help them to consider issues of extractivism, resource use, consumption, and waste – particularly as these relate to fairness and inequality and “earth overshoot” particularly within the context of limits to growth, and how we might all live well within planetary boundaries (e.g., doughnut economics).

·        There is a missed opportunity to consider the health impacts of the climate crisis - not only the health impacts of extreme heat and other extreme weather events, but also air and water pollution, changing disease vector ecology, plants vs meat-focused diets, etc. Discussing such health impacts enables a greater emphasis on the positives of addressing the climate and biodiversity crises - for example a modal shift from private cars to active and public transport not only reduces emissions but gives us cleaner air and healthier citizens. Such examples help students to understand that climate action should not be framed as inconvenience and hardship, but as bringing about a happier, healthier, fairer world for all.

·        The treatment of climate emotions as valid is excellent. It will be important to consider the full range of emotions - including negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and worry but also positive emotions inspiration, awe, love etc. so that students understand that there is space for positivity, particularly through their connection with others and with nature.

·        The section on policy decisions and implementation (Strand 2), offers an excellent opportunity to review the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assemblies. These are also very good exemplars of participatory democracy. Why the recommendations of the Citzens’ Assemblies have not been taken up is something that students could be equipped to reflect on through to the discussion of political ideology, vested interests and lobbying groups.

·        Also in the context of policy decisions, while mitigation is generally well handled, the EU dimension could be strengthened, as could domestic policy responses.

·        The curriculum is a bit light on the science of global climate change. A recent EPA report suggested that most people couldn't distinguish the greenhouse effect from Ozone depletion and acid rain. Additional material on the nature and causes of the greenhouse effect would therefore be useful. 

·        There is not sufficient focus on greenhouse gases other than Carbon Dioxide, in particular Methane which is so much more potent in the lifespan of school children. How methane and other gases are included in concepts such as Global Warming Potential would be good to include.

·        As the major impact of climate change likely to affect Ireland, flooding merits some consideration in the syllabus. Impacts such as biodiversity loss also could receive greater coverage. 

·        Some references are made to air pollution and air pollution project work. This is not really necessary in this curriculum. It would result in potentially students  identifying climate change and air pollution problems as synonymous. Of course there are interactions between the two, but the syllabus should no reinforce false connections with climate change.

·        An important question that is raised by this excellent draft specification is what teacher training will be provided to enable teachers to teach this important curriculum?

·        Also, how will roll out of this subject be supported and incentivised? It will be very important to ensure that the subject is taught widely across the country rather than restricted to a small number of privileged schools, which will only serve to reinforcing existing inequalities.