About this guide

This resource was developed as a response to the gaps in knowledge, and requests for support that were identified in our national survey: Canada, Climate Change and Education: Opportunities for Public and Formal Education , as well as our experience delivering climate change PD workshops to teachers across the country. 

The result? A cross-curricular, nine-chapter inquiry resource to support climate change education for students in grades 7-12 across Canada. 

“I hope that the shock of this pandemic will jolt people out of their desire to ignore global issues like climate change. I hope our growing sense of urgency, of solidarity, of stubborn optimism and empowerment to take action, can be one thing that rises out of this terrible situation.” ~ Christina Figueres, former UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change, Chief Architect of the Paris Climate Change Agreement

When we started to write this climate change inquiry guide in the summer of 2019, we had no idea about COVID-19 or how it would change our lives in 2020 and beyond. Even after the first weeks of sheltering in place, we are still coming to know what changes will be lasting and what will be temporary. It is a bewildering and uncertain time.

As a climate change educator, I have experienced a lot of dissonance during this time — oscillating between grief over what and who we are losing and hope for the kind of disruptive possibilities the pandemic means for new ways of thinking, especially when it comes to carbon emissions. Throughout 2019, there was so much climate action momentum. Will COVID-19 hamper or help that momentum? While projecting how climate priorities will be met in a world recovering from COVID-19 is unclear, there are indications that positive possibilities are being seeded. 

For young people living through the pandemic, this moment will be a touchstone — a memory when everything is divided between before and after. People are experiencing first-hand what it is like to work as citizens within a community where individual rights and responsibilities are connected to the health of the wider society. This time of personal sacrifice will be experienced differently by all young people depending on how the virus has impacted their homes — ranging from togetherness and cooperation or anxiety and grief. When the pandemic is over, young people will need to process their experiences to make sense of the legacy that it has brought and left for the future. 

This kind of reflection and processing will be important not only for individual mental health and well-being but for viewing disciplinary subjects through a COVID-19 lens. The pandemic has challenged many of the underpinnings of the systems that run our society and as such offer a critical learning moment, an opportunity to pivot and to reorient these systems to better serve people and the planet. Emerging from the pandemic is an opportunity to think in new ways about how to address runaway carbon emissions, and in turn, runaway climate disruption. 

Due to the lockdown, it is expected that carbon emissions will fall by 4-8 percent, or roughly by 2,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020. To put this into context, the coronavirus could trigger the largest annual fall in carbon dioxide emissions, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.  If 2020 results in a 5 percent drop in emissions, then this period of time in lockdown would meet the kind of reduction required every year until net-zero emissions are reached in 2050. The trick will be to determine whether these reductions are possible through good climate policies rather than through strict regulations put in place due to a pandemic. 

In the strange collective pause caused by COVID-19, we can decide our collective future. As the global economy recovers, will we make the mistake of ramping up high-carbon industries and projects, locking out the potential to “flatten”the curve of emissions? Or will political and financial leaders use this unprecedented historic opportunity to accelerate the energy transition to a safe path toward aggressive emissions reduction? As we re-enter society from our homes the plans we set in motion will decide what kind of lives, and quality of life, we all will share from now on.  


My hope is that we collectively seize this moment.

In stubborn optimism,

Ellen Field

Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF) would like to acknowledge the enduring presence of Indigenous peoples on the lands from across turtle island from which we wrote and from which you are now reading this guide. We would like to thank past, present and future caretakers. 

This resource is the culmination of many conversations about and reflections on pedagogies for learning about climate change with an intersectional approach.  Without the leadership, support and insights of Pamela Schwartzberg, President and CEO, Elaine Rubinoff, Director of Programs and Samantha Gawron, Manager of Programs of LSF this work would not have come to fruition. LSF would like to acknowledge The Cooperators for funding the creation of this resource. We would like to thank Gia Spiropolous, a M.Ed student from Lakehead University, who helped develop the foundational ideas for each thematic inquiry; Tim McGregor and Theresa McGregor for reviewing the inquiry theme on Climate Action and decolonization: Indigenous perspectives and working with us to ensure the theme is culturally appropriate; Dr. Susan Elliott, Learning Strategist for her input into the Human Health inquiry; Margaret Zyla, M.Ed student at Lakehead University and secondary teacher in Simcoe Muskoka District School Board and Sapphire Giberson, M.Ed student at Lakehead University for editing of several themes and suggestions for resources; and David Israelson, communications consultant, for expert editing and help with framing the resource for a covid-19 context.

This guide will be hosted electronically so that it can be updated, adapted and modified as our learning about and response to climate change evolves.  We look forward to the exciting contributions that teachers in the formal education system will make towards empowering learners in a warming world!

About the Authors

Dr. Ellen Field

Dr. Ellen Field is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University. She is the principal investigator leading a national review of climate change education practices in schools examining both policy and practice. As well, Dr. Field is a lead facilitator for Learning for a Sustainable Future’s professional development workshops on climate change education for teachers, which focus on transdisciplinary, experiential, and inquiry-based strategies, that include developmentally-appropriate instruction. She is a mom of a vibrant four year old and is committed to remaining stubbornly optimistic about the future.

Jennifer Stevens

Jennifer Stevens is the Manager of Learning, Research and Communication at Learning for a Sustainable Future. At LSF she works to implement programming, conduct research, and integrate the ideals for a sustainable future into the Canadian school system by working with youth directly and supporting parents and teachers. Jennifer holds a Masters of Child Study and Education from the Jackman Institute of Child Studies at the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Psychology from Queen’s University. She is passionate about all things outdoors and is always looking for new ways to integrate sustainable ideals into her life and work.

Dr. Karen Acton

Dr. Karen Acton is an educator with over 30 years of experience in both the elementary and secondary panels as a science teacher, department head, principal, and Education Officer at the Ministry of Education. Dr. Acton obtained her doctorate at OISE at the University of Toronto and her research focused on the motivation, supports and barriers of environmental teacher leadership. She used this knowledge in her role as Environmental Sustainability Lead in her school board to champion policy and procedure changes, and to successfully achieve 100% EcoSchools status. Dr. Acton is currently teaching at Western University and at OISE. She is also a consultant for Learning for a Sustainable Future, where she uses her passion to help spread the word on climate justice.