[2020-07-22] Opening Remarks at the 2nd Ecological Education Transition Forum

By 2020년 7월 23일 No Comments
Source: Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Official Youtube Channel

On July 22nd, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) hosted the 2nd Ecological Education Transition Forum on the topic of ‘the development of school curricula to strengthen environment education’. In his opening speech, Chairman Ban stressed the importance of youth education to shift our paradigm towards sustainable development.


Education has always been at the center of Chairman Ban’s concerns, ever since he was the Secretary-General. Having experience the Korean War, he knew very well of the importance of education for all. Thus, he welcomed the Seoul city’s plan to incorporate environmental education into school curricula.


Scholars have been warning the possibility of the 6th mass extinction. The humanity has experienced 5 mass extinctions in history and now the 6th would happen within 100-200 years. “It is not the COVID-19 or any other disease that can wipe out the entire humanity,” the Chairman said. The destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem is what we need to watch out for. “Growth first economic development, which we have put forward ahead of any other values, can mean nothing in front the environmental crisis,” he warned.


Chairman Ban compared the Korean government’s Green New Deal with EU’s climate response, saying that the former ‘could have been better.’ EU has announced its plan to invest immense finance into climate response; one-third of their 5 years budget. On the other hand, the Green New Deal focuses more on economic recovery, which is crucial Chairman understands, but more budgets should be allocated for climate change.


In his speech, Chairman Ban repeatedly praised the SMOE’s mid-long term environment education plan. “I believe that youth education is where the change begins,” he said. It is up to the adults, the educators to lead climate action. “Global citizenship, the ethos that protecting the environment is crucial, must be engraved into the heart of our young students; this is what we need to embrace into our education system,” the Chairman asserted. We need to provide students with comprehensive knowledge on climate change from the earliest stages of life. He mentioned the Italian government’s insightful decision to mandate environment education into every school curricula and encouraged the Korean educator’s continued efforts.


Below is the translation of his speech.


Dear distinguished guests.

I have met with many principals, professors, deans and educators during my 16 years of school education. But the Superintendent of Education always seemed like someone above the cloud, at the highest level. It’s an honor for me to finally meet the Superintendent after 70 years.

I have always emphasized the importance of education. Highlighting the value of education was one of the first tasks I have done as the UN Secretary-General. As we went through the war, we were very poor, hungry, and fragile, yet we had to desire for education. Not that I had such passion back then, but the instructors of that time did. I always say that this passion is what led to the election of the UN Secretary-General.


I always underline the need for “Education for all”. Even at this very moment, there are 65million children out of school. Where there is war, the greatest victims are the young children. Thus I’ve always said that education is important.


Recently, the urgency of climate crisis stood out along with the pandemic crisis. UN had been trying to set out an agreement on climate change for decades, but it wasn’t easy. Then during my 10 years tenure as the UN Secretary-General, the Paris Agreement was selected after 20 years of negotiations. Adding on to this, the SDGs, that includes eradicating poverty, quality education, climate action, biodiversity was selected. These two I have accomplished during my 10 years, and I have always kept my ears open for any news on these issues.


Meanwhile, the Superintendent of Education, Cho Hee-yeon, announced the mid-long term plan for Ecological Education Transition and said that Seoul City will adopt ecological education into school curricula starting from primary school students. I was thrilled by the news and wrote a letter to notice the Superintendent that this is what we truly need. Obviously not all the students are in Seoul, so I wrote a letter for every city and province superintendents. When I has invited by the Members of the National Assembly, I spoke of the Seoul City’s ecology education plan.


So this is why I am standing here.


As the Superintendent has said, the coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis.

Schools were open amid the WWII, and even during the Korean War. I was six when the Korean War erupted, but I never missed out on school. Classrooms had fallen to pieces and I had to study on the floor, but I attended school. I never failed in class and never was I absent. In school, other students were a few years older than I and they would treat me like their little brother. I know the importance of education more than anyone else.


There are 16 million people infected by the pandemic worldwide and 600,000 deaths. Korea has acted as a role model internationally with the 3T+P (Testing, Tracing, Treating, Participation) COVID response method. I am deeply impressed by this.

As if the Korean War wasn’t devastating enough, there was the 1997 financial crisis. I cannot recall back then without tears, how the Korean people united to overcome the disaster together. We’re seeing this participation today. But before then, Koreans had the bad habit of complacency whenever a catastrophe hits. I urge the educators to work hard on raising awareness on climate crisis.

As the former UN Secretary-General, I have introduced the strength of South Korea’s COVID response through international organizations, foreign press and interviews.


Last April, Pope Francis spoke of the coronavirus. He said that the virus is the “nature’s responses to humans ignoring the current ecological crisis. I don’t know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature’s responses.”

I met with the Pope last year, just by ourselves. We didn’t have the virus then. We talked about the climate crisis. The Pope said, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives but nature never forgives,” and I take this to be an axiom. This truth is what we are going through today.

The Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu, SARS, H1N1, Avian Influenza, MERS, Ebola and now the COVID-19. As humans start to interact with birds, monkeys, bats etc. due to the destruction of the ecology system, the coronavirus spread.


I appreciate the Superintendents scheme to turn closed down schools into facilities where students can learn about the environment and ecology.


As you all know, one day the COVID will be over. However, the climate crisis remains. It’s hard to notice, because the climate change progresses slowly, while the fatal impact of the coronavirus is easy to witness. But it is not the COVID-19 or any other disease that can wipe out the entire humanity. Human beings have survived through infectious diseases and wars before.

There were 5 mass extinction of humanity ever since human being existed. Scholars warn that the 6th mass extinction might happen within 100-200 years. We should not overlook what the experts say. We have to lead change.

If destruction of Earth’s ecosystem continues, it can seriously threaten the health of humanity. Growth first economic development, which we have put forward ahead of any other values, can mean nothing in front the environmental crisis. We know that this is true.

I must underscore that if we deal with any crisis sincerely with authenticity, we can overcome the challenges.


Yesterday (July 21th), the EU summit was held. They had agreed on responding to the climate crisis together and acknowledged that the COVID resulted from climate change. They announced the enormous financial program; they plan to invest one-third of their 5 year’s budget of 1.8trillion Euro into climate response.

This means a lot for us. President Moon has proposed the Green New Deal. The public had questioned the integrity of the plan. As the Chair of the NCCA I feel that it could have been better. Economic recovery, job creation, they are all very important. But above that lies the climate change and environment. I am of the idea that more finance should have been allocated for the climate and environment. Climate action budget isn’t enough. Certain media had called the plan ‘Green New Deal – missing out 1%”. We need to work more on climate change. We have to lead change. The Superintendent’s Ecological Education Transition takes an important part of this process.


Since last April 29th, me as the Chair of the NCCA, and together with politicians, scholars, experts, civil societies, Assembly Members, Ministers; we implemented the first Seasonal Management Plan this year. 28 out of 60 fossil fuel power plants closed down during the Management period for the first time in history. More than 1.1 million worn out diesel automobiles were restricted. Likewise, this year’s plan will be carried more strictly, after the passage of the bill.


As the Superintendent has said, now we can see the blue sky. But this is not all due to COVID. Everybody seems to think that the blue sky is all thanks to COVID. (Laughs)

Since seeing the blue sky is the desire of everyone, last year President Moon suggested the designation of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies (September 7th) at the UN General Assembly. This was selected unanimously. There will be a celebration event on the September 7th. President Moon will be attending, not only will it be in Korea, but it will be celebrated by the UN, Bangkok, and UNESCAP as well. I hope everyone keeps an eye open for this upcoming event.


No one seems to notice that we are at a critical point, that we will reach the critical point very soon. If this moment comes, we can never recover. This is why we have to work on education.


I am standing here today, because I believe that youth education is where the change begins.

At the last UN General Assembly, a 16 year old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg scolded the world summits. I was sitting there with many distinguished world leaders. I saw her yell with anger; “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood!” There are voices saying that she should be awarded the Novel Prize.


It is up to you to lead this climate action. Dear Superintendent, Principals and educators, you should lead and teach the young students the importance of environment protection so they can grow up to be global citizens. We are Koreans, but at the same time, we are a part of this globe we are global citizens. This global citizenship, the ethos that protecting the environment is crucial, must be engraved into the heart of our young students; this is what we need to embrace into our education system.


I have repeated this everywhere around the world. Not just in Korea but in China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe, everywhere.


Last year the Italian Ministry of Public Education has announced that they will mandate 33 hours of environment education into their school curricula starting from this September. I informed the Korean Education Minister of this news. I believe that we need to provide students with a comprehensive knowledge on environment, economy, society, and citizenship by connecting education policies with on-spot field education and by enhancing the students’ awareness on environment from the very early stage of life. The importance of in-school environment education cannot be overstated; it is important to provide the future generations with environmental education in the era of climate crisis so that the youth can grow up to be nature-friendly, global citizens. Thus I have proposed this to the Superintendent of Seoul and 16 superintendents of other cities and provinces.


In this context, I highly praise and appreciate the SMOE’s insight on climate crisis, selecting policies such as providing vegetarian menu selections in schools. Moreover, the proposal by the National Council of Governors of Education last July 9th, demonstrates the educators’ strong will towards environment education. This proposal includes declaration on the emergency of environment education in schools, creating environment education textbooks by Gyeonggido Office of Education and more. I once again would like to show my respect and send a big round of applause, for the wise vision the educators have shown.


Please continue your efforts to reinforce environment education, so that the future generation can understand the value of environment from a very early age, and that all students can learn of the climate crisis and fine dust.


Dear Superintendent Cho hee-yeon, I wish you all the best, and the development of SMOE. I sincerely hope that today’s Ecological Education Transition Forum can be the bedrock of a landmark achievement in Korea’s environment education.


Thank you.