Young people are being let down by world leaders time and time again. Leaders who fail to show strong climate leadership on the world stage – whilst climate scientists urgently warn that significant changes need to be made now to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, international delegates left COP27 with record levels of pollution still being pumped into our atmosphere.

So, here at Mock COP we got to thinking… How have our global leaders gotten into these roles without a deep understanding of the urgency behind the greatest issues humanity faces: the climate and biodiversity crises?

We found that these world leaders have something in common: where they went to university. University, specifically these so called ‘world-class’ institutions, is where most high-level decision-makers are educated. 20 current heads of state and government have studied at Harvard alone. But, much of what is taught in key subjects does not support or align with the actions needed to tackle the climate emergency and ecological crisis. As carbon emissions rise and inequalities grow across the world, a ‘business as usual’ worldview continues to justify growth over people and planet. This worldview is cemented within leading academic institutions, meaning education, the most powerful tool for change, is failing to equip past, present and future world leaders to take ambitious climate action.

And it’s not just about world leaders or these five topics, research by SOS-UK suggests university courses of all types are not currently meeting student expectations for learning for sustainability as the desire to learn about the subject increases as they progress through their degrees. For example, 60% of first-year university students say they want to learn more about sustainable development, compared to 66% of those in their third year of study. A new report, in May 2022, suggested that there is a disconnect between what students want on sustainability and what institutions are delivering.

We also know that some key subjects are influenced by large corporates that are working against the advice of the world’s leading climate scientists to stay with the 1.5˚C warming limit. For example, some course materials are sponsored by Shell and BP.

We have a ‘world-class’ education system that is failing people and planet, and young people demand change. We need curriculum reform to address the climate emergency and ecological crisis.