For more than five years, the UN has been behind efforts to broaden sustainable development education initiatives around the world.
Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. This simple definition encompasses a complex dynamic that implicates values and value systems as well as interdisciplinary knowledge and experience, and stresses the interdependence of the environment, society and the economy.
In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 57/254 to put in place the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), spanning the years 2005 to 2014. UNESCO was designated as the lead agency for the Decade.
The overall goal of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is the integration of the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning.
The Decade’s four key objectives are facilitating networking and collaboration among stakeholders in ESD; fostering greater quality of teaching and learning in ESD; supporting countries in achieving their millennium development goals through ESD efforts; providing countries with new opportunities and tools to incorporate ESD in education reform efforts.
The role of the ESD is to help people develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and for the future, and to act upon those decisions.
ESD is an approach to teaching and learning based on the ideals and principles that underlie sustainability – human rights, poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, peace, environmental protection, democracy, health, biological and landscape diversity, climate change, gender equality, and protection of indigenous cultures.
The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development – Moving into the Second Half of the UN Decade took place in Bonn, Germany from March 31 to April 2, 2009. The Conference was a forum for sharing experiences and best practices, bringing together close to 700 participants representing UNESCO Member States, UN agencies, civil society organizations, youth, and the private sector.
UNESCO’s major areas of activity under the DESD include education, natural and social sciences, culture, and communication.
UNESCO believes that education is a human right and the primary agent of transformation towards sustainable development. To implement education for sustainable development, UNESCO seeks to promote and improve basic education, reorient existing education programs at all levels to address sustainable development, develop public awareness and understanding of sustainability, and provide training.
UNESCO’s goal is to promote multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches for the wise use of natural resources and to improve the understanding of human–environment relationships, as well as to promote principles, policies, and ethical norms to guide scientific and technological development that is sustainable.
Culture is also important to UNESCO because it is concerned with the identities and values that shape the way people live, their responsiveness to educational programs, and the degree to which they feel involved in preserving for the future. UNESCO encourages an approach to sustainable development in which people are addressed with a discourse linked to their immediate concerns.
UNESCO acknowledges that communication is virtually instantaneous and this serves as a powerful driver of social transformation. In this context, UNESCO acts as a broker for effective sustainable development by encouraging the sharing of knowledge, information, expertise and best practices, producing and disseminating scientific knowledge, and sensitizing the media to sustainable development issues.
The UN effort to implement education for sustainable development is a long-term process that calls upon all stakeholders, including governments, educational institutions, business and industry, communities, civil society, and individuals to play a role and to embrace the ideas of sustainable development.
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