How can education help change climate science?

Education helps people escape poverty [1,2,3,4], largely because it allows them to access jobs with higher salaries [5,6,7]. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, an extra year of education increases hourly salary by 12.4% [8]. People with a better quality of life tend to have fewer children due to their children having a higher chance of survival [16]. This slows population growth, which in turn reduces production of greenhouse gas emissions [9]. In this way, providing education can play a key role in fighting climate change [13,14,15,16].

Since girls currently receive less education than boys [22], there needs to be a focus on educating boys and girls equally [9,21]. In Kenya, educated women are less likely to contract HIV/AIDS or malaria, and have more productive agricultural plots, leading to lower child death rates [9,11]. Women who expect their children to live longer have fewer children overall [12]. In addition, educating women increases use of birth control [17] which also decreases birth rate [9,17]. Overall, educating women slows population growth [9,10].

In fact, education of all boys and girls in low and lower-middle-income countries could prevent 51.48 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050, by slowing population growth [9]. That’s roughly like taking away a whole year’s worth of global emissions [18].

Both education of women and promotion of family planning through provision of contraception [20] are estimated to be cheaper than many other methods for reducing emissions [19]. Family planning costs about $4.5 per ton of CO2 avoided, and education of women costs about $10 per ton of CO2 avoided [19]. For comparison, it costs $30 per ton using solar photovoltaic panels, $15 for nuclear energy, and $70 for capturing carbon from a coal power station [19].


[1] Sustainable development begins with education. UNESCO 2015. See: Poverty reduction section: education ends chronic (intergenerational) poverty

[2] general overview of chronic poverty and what causes it. See: Chapter 5, Post primary education, p80

[3] Understanding sustained escapes from poverty: comparing Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania Synthesis Report. Chronic Poverty Advisory Network 2018. See: Page 39, Secondary education is associated with sustained escapes from poverty

[4] The Chronic Poverty Report 2014-2015: The road to zero extreme poverty, Chronic Poverty Advisory Network. See: Chapter 4.6 page 80 “education to transform lives”

[5] Sustaining Gains in Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Middle East and North Africa, World Bank 2006. See: Chapter 3, page 36, Education and Income Growth among Poor People section

[6] Reducing Global Poverty through universal primary and secondary education, UNESCO 2017. See: page 11, Education policy and poverty reduction section (education provides skills subsection)

[7] Youth and skills: putting education to work;EFA global monitoring report, 2012. The whole report talks about the importance of education in getting employment, but the diagram on page 24 nicely illustrates how education and training can combine to lift people in better jobs

[8] Comparable Estimates of Returns to Schooling Around the World, Education Global Practice Group (World Bank Group) 2014. See: Page 11, Table of returns to schooling rate and paragraph on returns to schooling rate by world region.


See their impact evaluation: universal education in low and lower-middle income countries could achieve 51.48 gigatons of emissions (CO2e) reduction by 2015

[10] Global Human Capital: Integrating Education and Population, Science Mag, 2011. See: Mother’s Education is Key

[11] Child Mortality, Our World in Data, 2019. See: Relationship between education and child mortality

[12] Fertility Rate, Our World in Data, 2017. See: Empowerment of women section, increasing wellbeing and status of children

[13] Population Growth (annual %) World Bank Indicators, 2018 See: comparison of percentage growth rates in 2018 between High Income (0.5%) , Middle Income (1.1%) and Low Income (2.6%) countries

[14] Fertility Rate, Our World in Data, 2017 See: Increasing prosperity and structural transformation of the economy

[15] Population Facts, Dept of Economic and Social Affairs, UN 2010. See: Short article, all relevant, in particular section 2: “Lowering fertility facilitates the achievement of key development goals”


The demographic transition and economic growth: implications for development policy, Nature Communications, 2015. See: Abstract

[17] The impact of women’s schooling on fertility and contraceptive use: a study of fourteen Sub-Saharan African countries, World Bank report 1996. See: abstract

[18] Emissions gap report 2019, executive summary, UNEP. See: Section 1, 2018 emissions total 55.3 GtCo2e. Calculation: (51.48/55.3)x100 = 93%

[19] The Economics of population policy for carbon emissions reduction in developing countries, Centre for Global Development Working Paper 229, 2010. See: abstract, 5.1 Global Results, Table 2 for comparison of abatement costs

[20] Family planning/Contraception, WHO 2018



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