Libraries for Climate Empowerment: inspiring action through education, training, and public awareness

Libraries are enablers and drivers of sustainable development. They are essential contributors to an informed, participatory society, and vectors of positive change within their communities.

This is important for climate action, as the relevant international legal frameworks emphasise education, training, awareness, and public participation.  This is climate empowerment, and we will not be able to achieve our climate action goals without it.

The UNFCCC has adopted the term Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) to describe all the work being done to implement Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement (discussed below, and with further resources on ACE online).

As public spaces, as well as champions for access to information and lifelong learning, libraries are well placed within their communities to be hubs for climate empowerment. This blog both explores examples of what libraries are already doing, and opportunities for future engagement.

Climate Empowerment in International Legal Frameworks

The key legal instrument addressing climate change is the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and within it, the Paris Agreement. Both see climate empowerment as vital to implementation.

Since entering into force in 1994, the UNFCCC is a commitment of governments (known as States Parties) to prevent dangerous levels of human interference with the climate system.

The Paris Agreement is an international, legally binding treaty on climate change that seeks to enhance implementation of the UNFCCC. Entering into force in 2016, this is an agreement of 196 governments (State Parties) to work together to limit global warming to preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

Established in the UNFCCC and carried over into the Paris Agreement is the concept of climate empowerment.

UNFCCC Article 6

Article 6 of the UNFCCC, “Education, Training, and Public Awareness”, compels State Parties to support efforts that:

  • Develop and implement educational and public awareness programmes on climate change and its effects
  • Promote public access to information on climate change and its effects
  • Enable public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses
  • Facilitate training of scientific, technical and managerial personnel

To do this, State Parties are urged to act to develop educational and public awareness material and strengthen support to national institutions that do this work [source].

Paris Agreement Article 12

These obligations are renewed in the Paris Agreement. Signatories are committed to taking appropriate measures to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation, and public access to information.

These are recognised as important steps to enhancing all other actions of the Paris Agreement.

Library advocacy

Libraries are natural institutions in which to turn this commitment into action. As places for storytelling and discussion, facilitators of scientific research, providers of digital access and information literacy, platforms for participatory decision-making, and providers of lifelong learning – all types of libraries can find a role in climate empowerment.

If your country has signed the Paris Agreement, this commitment alone is a powerful lever for obtaining support for libraries.

Libraries can use national commitments to international climate change agreements to inform strategic programmes and services which position them as agents for successful implementation.

Examples of Libraries in Climate Empowerment

Below are just a few examples of how different types of libraries and library associations have supported climate empowerment through their activities. Think about how your library’s services and activities may also target these areas.

1: Public awareness and access to information

Social Responsibility Programme, Costa Rican Association of Librarians, Costa Rica

The first Report on the State of the Environment of Costa Rica was presented by the Minister of the Environment and Energy and National Environmental Council in 2018. In response to the recommendations made in this report, the Costa Rican Association of Librarians (COPROBI – Colegio de Profesionales en Bibliotecología de Costa Rica) approved its first social responsibility programme. This programme features activities and events dedicated to raising public awareness and inspiring action. For example, through beach clean-up events that focus on disseminating information on sorting and recycling to the local community. Read more in our story on the IFLA Library Map of the World.

2: Education

Environmental Literacy, Bilbao district public school library, Bogota, Colombia

Librarians and the school’s science teachers developed an environmental education programme targeted at children. The library’s age-appropriate workshops are tailored to increase the students’ environmental and recycling awareness. They started by transforming the library’s space into a greener and more accessible place for children and encourage students to participate in activities which grow knowledge of social responsibility. Read more in our story on the IFLA Library Map of the World.

3: Public participation

“Harvest Your City” Programme, Bad Oldesloe City Library, Germany

This programme informed participants of the role of community gardening as something everyone can do to contribute to socially and environmentally sustainable urban spaces. In addition to providing books and other library media on the subject, community gardeners were invited to share information on gardening and exchange heirloom seeds. This inspired further programmes in the community between the library and other institutions focussing on food production and natural urban spaces. Read more on the German Biblio2030 site.

4: Scientific training

Pre-academic work with students in the C3 library, Vienna, Austria

The C3 Library offers tailored support to secondary school students completing their pre-scientific work (VWAs) in areas relating to sustainable development. This support includes providing access to materials and collaborative working space, as well as workshops on research techniques with information specialists. In addition to supporting students’ development as future researchers, this programme inspires discussion on young people’s place in building a more sustainable future read more on the German Biblio2030 site.

Action for Climate Empowerment: Next Steps

Following the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, the UNFCCC will present a new work plan to provide State Parties with a framework for implementing their commitment on climate empowerment. IFLA will keep our members informed on how libraries can impact on this work plan – stay tuned!

In the meantime, it is good to know that State Parties to the UNFCCC have designated focal points for climate empowerment. Find your National Focal Point for ACE here.

This is a useful contact person to keep in mind for future advocacy efforts regarding your library’s role in action for climate empowerment.

Suggested Actions:

  1. Note activities, resources, and programmes that your library has carried out in the past, is currently offering, or is planning that will impact on climate empowerment (education, training, awareness raising, access to information, public participation)
  2. Identify your National Focal Point for ACE.
  3. Check if his or her office or ministerial department has any consultations, events, or calls for participation in which you can take part in order to share information on your library’s climate empowerment efforts.
  4. If your association is developing its own work on climate change, why not engage with the Focal Point to see if they can provide support in any way.

Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires not only economic transformation, but social and behavioural transformation. As climate change is a human-caused problem, human-centred solutions will be key to its successful mitigation. Empowering our communities to develop, participate in, learn about, and embrace these solutions is a powerful way for libraries to enable and drive change.