Learning Today for a Sustainable Future

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© UNESCO/Ministerio de Educación, Colombia

The stakes for post-2015 development agenda are high. To shape the future we want, to promote a sustainable planet, more just and green societies, and growing, green economies, we need to build strong foundations. This must encompass an education that empowers every boy and girl, woman and man with the values, skills and knowledge to find solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow. In a word, education post-2015 must prepare educators and learners for sustainable development.

The idea that education is the way to shape the values, skills and knowledge required to build sustainable societies has underpinned the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD; 2005-2014), which UNESCO has been leading. To achieve sustainable development, political regulations and financial incentives are not enough. We need to change the way we think and act. In a word, this change must start with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). 

While the Decade has seen significant ESD progress, including more countries incorporating education strategies, tools and targets into national sustainable development policies and an increase in national ESD strategies, much remains to be done in order to mainstream ESD into all areas of education and learning. In a world of 7 billion people and limited natural resources, there is a growing urgency for individuals and societies to learn to act more sustainably. 

At Rio+20 – the biggest UN Conference ever – countries agreed to promote Education for Sustainable Development beyond the end of its UN Decade. Moreover, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals proposed ESD and Global Citizenship Education as part of the targets for the proposed education goal for the post-2015 development agenda, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.” This goal is aligned with the target in the Muscat Agreement  adopted at the UNESCO 2014 Global Education For All Meeting. 

In November this year, the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development to be held in Aichi-Nagoya (Japan) will make an important step in this direction. Bringing together some 1,000 participants from around the world, the Conference will celebrate the achievements of ten years of global ESD efforts, showcasing initiatives, key players, networks and ideas that the UN Decade of ESD has stimulated. Under the banner of ‘Learning Today for a Sustainable Future,' the Conference will identify lessons learnt and see the launch of the future of ESD: the Global Action Programme (GAP). 

With this continued momentum for ESD, the stakes for the launch of the GAP are also high. While the DESD has built strong foundations, the GAP now has to generate and scale up action during the initial five-year programme period. The GAP will pursue the overall objective to use ESD as a key driver for contributing to the resilience and sustainability of societies, and thus aims to make a substantial contribution to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. 

To unlock the full potential of ESD, the GAP will focus on five priority action areas that have proven to be crucial for advancing ESD during the Decade:

  • Advancing policy;
  • Integrating sustainability practices into education and training environments (whole-institution approaches);
  •  Increasing the capacity of educators and trainers;
  •  Empowering and mobilizing youth; and
  •  Encouraging local communities and municipal authorities to develop community-based ESD programmes.

 For the GAP to be successful, fostering and building strong ESD partnerships will be required. Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch. The success of the DESD has been the work of multi-stakeholder partnerships, set up by ESD stakeholders around the world, including UN agencies, governments, civil society organisations, the private sector and academia. UNESCO is thus inviting all concerned stakeholders to become partners of the GAP from the start and to make a specific commitment to one or several of the GAP's priority action areas. Strong partnerships that help to advance relevant education post-2015 and prepare educators and learners for sustainable development are the way forward.

By Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

This is a guest article published on the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) - Sustainable Development Policy & Practice website.