Among the many climate extremes, heatwaves, floods, and droughts, that affected the world during summer of 2022, it still seems hard to grasp that the “global climate crisis”, which seemed so distant and abstract just a few decades ago, has now reached Europe full force. Considering that 70% of our “blue” planet’s surface is covered with water, the idea to talk about issues such as “water scarcity” and “groundwater depletion” reinforces just a bit more this odd feeling. However, even though water can rightfully be considered “the source of life”, it is also the primary medium through which we will experience the effects of climate change.
Turning this strange dilemma into a relatable and manageable concept has been the objective of a transnational project recently implemented in Germany and Slovenia by 2811, Weltweit e.V. and Ja Slovenija: the ‘Climate Action Academy Water’. Between April and June 2022, this online training program on climate change, water management, and ecological solutions, sought to empower German and Slovenian teachers and youth organizations to integrate the latter topics more strongly in their activities and curricula. Funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and the Clément Stiftung, this project ultimately offered the opportunity for teachers, members of youth organizations, experts, facilitators, and students to interact, exchange, and reflect together on how to harness the potential of local communities in dealing with global environmental challenges.
Thus, brought together by the same consciousness and willingness to take on the climate crisis, 2811, Weltweit e.V., and Ja Slovenija decided to carry out this project with the exalting idea of training teachers and youth organizations through the dissemination of knowledge, skills, methods, and experiences around the water issues. Through the partnership with the non-profit organizations Weltweit e.V., based in Bad Soden, Germany, and Ja Slovenia, based in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, both active in the empowerment of young generations, this project managed to foster the development of an innovative and collaborative educational setting.
An innovative structure
“The schedule of the Academy consisted of a 5-week training program, summing up to approximately 8 hours of group sessions (videoconferences), 12 hours of individual work, and a final joint session between the German and Slovenian participants. Methodologically speaking, the program strongly emphasized the concepts of systemic thinking and challenge-based learning, both providing an innovative framework for learning while solving real challenges and bolstering essential skills and competencies, such as uncertainty management, creativity, and self-efficiency. “Throughout this novel program, participants, teachers and members of youth organizations, were expected to map where, how, and when the main environmental conflicts occur, and to reflect about the generation of possible solutions,” according to Remy Rupp, Climate Action Academy Europe Coordinator at 2811.
A novel program that also mobilized partners who worked with 2811 on previous projects, such as EIT Climate-KIC. Dedicated to accelerating the transition to a climate-resilient society and supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, with whom they worked on the development of the Young Innovators program, the latter organization aims to promote the ability of young people to develop innovative solutions to climate change. “Our experience with 2811 started when they organized a Young Climathon in Linares, Chile, where we quickly noticed their great experience and enthusiasm, which aligned perfectly with Climate-KIC’s values. That is why we trusted them again to run this Academy, expected to open people’s eyes to the importance of water, especially droughts, floods, and the access to clean water, representing a huge risks for an increasing amount of communities,” explained Bram Drijvers, coordinator of Climate-KIC’s Young Innovators.
An all-new experience
Even though the issue of water has been largely addressed by the media and a wide range of organizations by this date, the project is considered experimental in its field, especially due to its unique pedagogical methods. A fact shared by the participants, who declared to have immediately started designing programs based on the knowledge acquired. “It’s like a school, with group work, activities, etc. There is a lot of great content. I appreciate that we have also been able to keep in touch with the other organizations, to see what kind of projects they are developing and build new networking opportunities,” asserted Lena Stingl, member of the non-profit organization Ecokids, based in Hofheim, Germany, a participant in this first edition.
Kimon Letzner, another participant from Germany, who founded the initiative GemeinSchafftNatur in Berlin in 2019, added, “Something very fruitful was the exchange between NGOs, teachers, and other entities in the field. Until this Academy, I had never participated in a workshop where all these different kinds of actors come together. Now I see this space as a great platform to build new partnerships between educational bodies, municipalities, city administrations, etc.”.
“I think we can continue to create consortia thanks to the foundations that the Climate Action Academy gave us. I am sure that this space will have an impact on the community”, complemented Klavdija Česnik, a participant from Slovenia working in a regional development agency. A positive conclusion that corroborates the results of the post-project surveys, in which most of the participants claimed that they were now confident in integrating the knowledge and methods acquired on climate change in their learning environments.
In addition to these stimulating results, participants were also impacted individually by the project. By comparing the results of the survey implemented after and before the Academy, the graph shows an undeniable increase in the number of German participants motivated to engage in future climate action projects in their communities. A result that directly prompted the project’s organizers to think about developing new similar projects in the future.
What about the future?
According to the 2811 team itself, the Climate Action Water Academy does not expect to deliver an answer to the environmental challenges. Rather, it seeks to produce a snowball effect, first impacting the participants of the project, which can then raise awareness among their learning environments and motivate local stakeholders to take concrete actions that simultaneously promote sustainable lifestyles and contribute to better adaptation and resilience in various contexts.
“We hope that the participants do not think they can solve all the problems regarding climate change and water by themselves, but rather that they become role models for their students and close circles. What we provide them with, are tools and knowledge to integrate climate action into their curricula, thus motivating young people to learn about and get involved in the issue. The idea is not to deliver solutions, but to empower them to think differently; it’s about a change of mindset,” Remy explained.
“In the end, it’s about doing everything possible to preserve our planet, where young people play an essential role. It is up to all of us to help the next generations to harness their potential, and we see how the Climate Action Academy has the potential to do this,” concluded the coordinator Bram, with an air of inspiration that should leave no one indifferent.
Figure 2: Picture of the German and Slovenian participants during the last common live session of the Academy on 02.06.2022