The goal of environmental education, according to UNESCO’s Belgrade Charter is to educate the public so that they are aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems in order to have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to solve current and future problems. This set of abilities is referred to as environmental literacy. Environmental education curriculum in schools began in the United States in the late nineteenth century as nature studies. It was transformed into conservation education in the 1930s in response to the ecological disaster of the dust bowl. Environmental education in its current form began in the late 1960s and 1970s with the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency. There are a number of positive effects of including environmental topics in school science curricula, such as increasing students’ motivation to learn; connecting the school subjects to students lives; and providing a context of the engagement in the practices of science. However, environmental science typically appears in school curricula in a non-coherent scattering of topics in the traditional science courses: biology, chemistry, and physics. The exceptions are special courses such as Advanced Placement Environmental Science, and magnet, charter, or private schools that have an environmental focus. In addition to school settings, environmental education takes place in informal settings such as aquariums, museums, and zoos; science and nature centres; boys’ and girls’ clubs and scouting; and afterschool and summer programmes.

There are areas of focus in environmental education that have received particular attention in recent years. They include environmental justice, climate change, and education for sustainability. Education for environmental justice helps people to learn about and act to eliminate unfair treatment of marginalised or impoverished groups in regard to environmental regulation, and laws. Climate change education brings to the forefront the learning of climate science, and ways to mitigate the production of greenhouse gases and the effects of global warming. Education for sustainability tackles the somewhat conflicting goals of increasing the quality of life for all people and doing so in a way that can be sustained for generations into the future, while considering not only the environment but economic and social policies as well. As with more general approaches to environmental education, these special topics are usually not addressed in school curricula or in ways that are piecemeal and even capricious.