COP28 experience sees advocate push for curriculum change

Grade 11 Sherwood Park student Shelby Hartman says that while climate change is top of mind for her generation, there remains a knowledge gap between advocates and the general population that prevents faster change.

That gap is why Hartman, one of 60 global youth chosen to attend the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference in December, is now calling for the Alberta government to add climate change education to the provincial curriculum.

"One of my big concerns is a lot of people aren't really educated on climate change," Hartman told Taproot. "Most adults I talk to about climate change, they have the same level of knowledge or less than me, which seems really odd. So, definitely there's a very big information gap between the general population and those people who campaign about climate change, so that bridge needs to be fixed."

Hartman said the Alberta curriculum should change, but added governments and politicians should also shift their approach to climate change, especially with the language and information they use.

"They just keep it in these crazy high scientific terms that most people don't understand, and no one's going to go out of their way and look it up if they just don't understand it," she said. "Some people will, but not everyone will, so we need to reach the general population, not the elite select few at the top."

Hartman said adding climate change to the curriculum could move the needle on this point. "The government controls (the) curriculum and controls how we educate our youth, so if they implement climate change in the curriculum, and climate change knowledge at a comprehensive level for each grade, then climate change knowledge overall will increase and also children can educate their parents."

Hartman's trajectory to attending COP28 began with her childhood passion for the outdoors. This naturally expanded into environmentalism as she grew up. "As a little kid you take all these little actions … (and) you know why you're doing them, but you don't understand the bigger picture," she said.

Hartman said COP28 was an opportunity to see the bigger picture, and one central takeaway from the experience was the shared effect that climate change has had on people across the globe.

"It was just very enlightening to know that we're all in this together, and then it was also very educational to learn about how different groups react to climate change," she said.

A person with blonde hair and black glasses gives two thumbs-up while standing before a domed pavilion lit with bright purples and blues.

Shelby Hartman is a grade 11 student who earned the opportunity to attend the COP28, hosted by Dubai in December 2023, due to her involvement in the #Decarbonize program and other advocacy work. (Supplied)

Hartman believes there are youth like her who want to get involved in climate-change advocacy but don't know where to turn. She said small actions can snowball into greater change, such as recycling, composting, or planting flowers.

"You have to continue those small actions even though they don't look like they're very big. If everyone else is doing them too, they do add up," Hartman said.

She also said those interested could join environmentally-minded organizations such as the Girl Guides or Scouts Canada, or the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Although Hartman stressed the change individuals can make, she has larger concerns that require policy shifts.

Hartman is a member of #Decarbonize, an international youth education program organized by the Centre for Global Education, which informs students about climate change and encourages them to take action in their communities.

After competing to secure her spot against her entire Advanced Placement class, the Centre for Global Education and AP College Board chose Hartman to join the other international students in Dubai, and advocate for the youth manifesto published by #Decarbonize's students.

"I definitely feel like we really accomplished spreading the child voice in our manifesto and showing what our goals and ambitions were," Hartman said.

The 2023 manifesto's top priorities ask for governments to create and implement climate-change education standards into Nationally Determined Contributions, which outline the efforts each country agrees to contribute to climate change agreements. This education would include informing students about these contributions, so they can keep governments accountable.

Hartman said that the atmosphere among the youth present at COP28 was hopeful.

"We were talking to all these adults that wanted to listen to us and take our opinions into consideration, and also do something about climate change and this issue we're really passionate about," she said.