Spotlight on the new Natural History GCSE

26th May 2022

Tom Pashby talks about why the new Natural History GCSE is such an important step forward for climate and biodiversity preservation

It’s increasingly rare that climate writers get to cover positive news, and this is one of those few occa-sions. Thanks to years of campaigning from environmental activists, a Natural History GCSE will be available to students from 2025 onwards.

The government announced its commitment to the GCSE in its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, which also included the roll-out of carbon literacy in every locally maintained nursery, school, college and university; greater support for teaching climate change; accelerating the roll-out of ‘ultra-low’ carbon education buildings; the development of a National Education Nature Park; and the introduction of a new Climate Leaders award.

In explaining the rationale for the new qualification, the founder of the campaign, Mary Colwell, said it would “reconnect our young people with the natural world around them.

Not just because it’s fascinating, not just because it’s got benefits for mental health, but because we’ll need these young people to create a world we can all live in, a vibrant and healthy planet.” The climate and biodiversity crisis really does demand that everyone has the skills needed to create a sustainable society – especially the young people who are inheriting a badly damaged natural environment.

Keeping up with the science

The qualification will cover a broad range of environmental issues, including climate change. Environment and sustainability professionals will be well aware that the scientific basis for our understanding of the natural world, in particular the climate, has evolved dramatically in recent years and decades.

My mother and I happened to do the same undergraduate course at the same university – environmental science at the University of Plymouth – and she tells me that there was hardly any climate science in the degree when she did it, although there was content on weather. This makes a lot of sense, because most of our modern understanding of human-induced global heating has emerged since the 1970s.

When I completed the same course in 2014, I did at least one whole module on climate science, plus other areas that overlapped with it. Immediately after my university course, I did an online course titled ‘Making Sense of Climate Science Denial 101x’. Denial of climate science had only become a mainstream talking point in the preceding few years, and certainly wasn’t covered by the mainstream media when my mother was at university.

This example highlights the rate of change in the scientific community’s appreciation for humanity’s impact on the planet, and shows that schooling needs to keep pace in order to properly equip young people to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

A crucial step

IEMA recently released a report on green jobs and skills in partnership with management consultancy Deloitte, alongside the results of an opinion poll we commissioned from YouGov. The report and poll demonstrated that far too

many people lack access to the institutions and resources that are necessary to build their capacity as workers. We know that the government has committed to deliver net zero by 2050, but without the skilled workers available to build a climate-resilient and zero-carbon economy, this promise will be impossible to achieve.

“This GCSE represents a crucial step in enabling us to prepare for the level of warming we’re locked into”

Humanity has spent thousands of years recording its observations on the natural world, and there have been several revolutions in our ability to understand our relationship with it.

This Natural History GCSE represents a crucial step in enabling us to prepare for the level of warming we’re already locked into, and to limit any further warming and species destruction as much as possible.

Tom Pashby: IEMA digital journalist

Image credit | Paddy Mills


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