Norwegian version

– Fast and fair transformations to low-carbon societies are difficult without critical climate education

Pupils working in a classroom with a teacher

“For more than 30 years, considerable attention has been paid to climate measures both in Norway and the rest of the world, but emissions continue to be irresponsibly high. At the same time, the measures are often very unjust, especially towards people living in poverty and vulnerable situations in the Global South,” says Professor in Development Studies at OsloMet, Hanne Svarstad. She is spearheading a new article on climate education in the Nature Climate Change journal (

“In order to choose climate mitigation alternatives that do not have adverse effects on future generations and disadvantaged people today, people must be given knowledge and tools to critically examine the most important consequences of various climate measures.”

However, a lot needs to be put in place in order to get there, explains Svarstad.

The article has been written by researchers specialising in the fields of climate, development, and education research. In addition to Svarstad, these include Alfredo Jornet from the University of Girona in Spain (, Glen Peters from CICERO Center for International Climate Research (,  Tom Griffiths from OsloMet and Tor A. Benjaminsen from NMBU (

Comparing Norway and the United Arab Emirates

Svarstad finds it interesting to see how the Norwegian media covered the climate summit in Dubai (COP28) and criticised the host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is investing heavily in continued oil production, appointed its Oil Director Al Jaber to chair the meeting, and used the meeting to promote the country’s oil interests. 

“Our own climate policy is a good example of the same phenomenon. Since the beginning of the 1990s, oil interests have considerably influenced Norwegian climate policy, and they continue to do so.” 

She believes that the most just climate measure any fossil fuel producing country can take for future generations and for the rest of the world today is to phase out oil activities as quickly as possible. 

In order to choose climate mitigation alternatives that do not have adverse effects on future generations and disadvantaged people today, people must be given knowledge and tools to critically examine the most important consequences of various climate measures. – Hanne Svarstad, Professor in Development Studies, OsloMet

“Norway is doing just as little about this as the UAE, but the similarity doesn’t stop there. Both go to great lengths to legitimise their continued production of fossil fuels and instead direct attention elsewhere." 

Deflecting critical scrutiny 

“In connection with COP28, Dubai’s Blue Carbon company came into focus. In just one year, the company that has links to the country’s royal family has managed to enter contracts with African governments for areas that together are larger than the UK. The areas will be used for carbon capture in forests. Through carbon credits, climate offenders will thus be able to buy themselves free from the responsibility of ending their own climate emissions,” says Svarstad.

She believes this is the same type of strategy that Norway has spearheaded since 2008 through the comprehensive Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative. 

“In both cases, it is about fossil fuel producing counties trying to shift climate attention away from themselves. Instead, the idea is to acquire large areas of land in the Global South in order to capture carbon there.” 

Often this involves carbon storage in forests. The problem is not the protection of forests per se, Svarstad explains. It is the ways that people living in the areas are ignored.

“People who use nature in modest and sustainable ways are rarely seen and heard, and they are often deprived of control over land and resources without receiving any real compensation”. 

Education as a climate strategy

The authors of the article in Nature Climate Change believe that just climate transformations require that people have sufficient knowledge and skills to be able to assess and compare the justice involved in different climate measures.  

Based on the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, they propose the introduction of critical climate education as part of national climate strategies. They believe that critical climate education must be adapted to national and local conditions, different year groups and educational programmes. The strategy will also require interdisciplinary research and teacher training. 

Student project on electric cars and injustice in Brazil and Canada 

Vitor Atsushi Nozaki Yano from Brazil is a student on OsloMet’s master’s programme in International Development, Education and Sustainabilities (IDEaS), where Svarstad and Griffiths teach. 

Last autumn, Yano and fellow students carried out a piece of group work where they tested some aspects of critical climate education in a project dealing with the electrification of private cars as a climate strategy.


As part of OsloMet’s English-language master’s programme International Development, Education and Sustainabilities (IDEaS), students investigate what type of consequences various climate measures have in relation to justice. The students in the picture are discussing different ideas about whether the country’s electrification of private cars can be a just climate measure. From the left: Vitor Atsushi Nozaki Yano, Vivianne Jour, Innocent Hakizimana Abubakar, Andrea Choroschun. Photo: Solfrid Hartberg

“We chose to focus on Brazil and Canada because these countries are very different socially and economically. Nevertheless, we saw that both countries faced similar challenges regarding injustice related to the transition to electric vehicles,” says Yano.

The students identified examples where indigenous populations in Brazil have been displaced in connection with the establishment of electric vehicle production and the increased demand for electricity to charge the vehicles. They saw how the measures lead to changes in the landscape and pollution of oceans and rivers, which is negative for the food security of the indigenous population.

With regard to Canada, they also found that the electric vehicle industry leads to pollution of land, air and water that particularly affects indigenous people. 

Education must be grounded in people’s lived experiences 

“In both cases, the transition to electric vehicles benefits the section of the population that can afford to buy a new car. However, pollution from production and changes in infrastructure occur mostly in areas where most residents can only afford old cars,” says Yano. 

He sees the importance of adapting climate education in schools to the context of the country and the area where the teaching takes place. 

“The education should be based on issues that are relevant to the pupils’ lives. Discussing electric vehicles, for example, is not relevant for pupils in all parts of Brazil. However, heat waves, food security, the displacement of people and land distribution may be issues with which they identify more.

Students must learn to assess climate justice in time and space

“Climate justice in time and space should be the most important criteria for any climate policy, and it should be made a key element in all climate education,” says Svarstad.

She explains that if climate measures are to be just in terms of time, they help create liveable conditions for future generations. In order for them to be just in terms of space, a country’s climate measures should not affect people in other countries.

“It is especially important that the measures do not make life more difficult for people living in poverty and vulnerable situations,” she says.

Climate justice in time and space should be the most important criteria for any climate policy, and it should be made a key element in all climate education. – Hanne Svarstad

In the article in Nature Climate Change, the researchers highlight an example from the Global South. Many pupils in schools in sub-Saharan Africa learn that villagers cause deforestation due to their way of life. Planting trees is therefore promoted as an important climate measure. 

A critical approach might be to encourage pupils to investigate who bears the burden of tree planting and forest conservation. They should be encouraged to assess how the burden can be shifted from villagers in Africa to nations and industries in the Global North.

“In the Global North, pupils should acquire skills in discussing the justice of relevant measures in their own country, such as the establishment of carbon capture in the Global South, or the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels. They should also learn to discuss the framework that today is largely taken for granted regarding the ‘green shift’. This applies not least to the premise of economic growth,” says Svarstad.


Svarstad, Hanne, Alfredo Jornet, Glen P. Peters, Tom G. Griffiths and Tor A. Benjaminsen (2023): Critical Climate Education is crucial for fast and just transformations (, PDF). Nature Climate Change Vol. 13 No. 12. 

Svarstad, Hanne (2021): Critical climate education: studying climate justice in time and space ( International Studies in Sociology of Education, 30(1-2): 214-232).

Master’s degree programme at OsloMet

International Development, Education, and Sustainabilities


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Published: 15/02/2024
Last updated: 15/02/2024
Text: Siv Tonje S. Håkensen
Photo: Mostphotos