Ed­u­cat­ing for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

This year marks a turn­ing point for the world, with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity adopt­ing a new global devel­op­ment strat­egy in Septem­ber and ne­go­ti­at­ing a uni­ver­sal deal to com­bat cli­mate change in De­cem­ber. To suc­ceed, pol­i­cy­mak­ers must recog­nise that to­day’s global im­per­a­tives – to erad­i­cate poverty and im­prove well­be­ing, while restor­ing the Earth’s bal­ance – form a sin­gle agenda, and that the most ef­fec­tive means of achiev­ing it is ed­u­ca­tion.

The good news is that the pro­posed set of Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, which will un­der­pin global ef­forts for the next 15 years, re­flect this recog­ni­tion. Like­wise, Ar­ti­cle 6 of the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC) stip­u­lates that ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing, and public aware­ness on cli­mate change must be pur­sued.

But, with ne­go­ti­a­tions on th­ese global agree­ments far from com­plete, it is vi­tal that pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ues to be re­in­forced. To this end, the world’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ters must take the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by this month’s World Ed­u­ca­tion Fo­rum in In­cheon, South Korea, to high­light the role that ed­u­ca­tion can and should play in ad­vanc­ing sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.

A strong ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem broad­ens ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties, im­proves health, and bol­sters the re­silience of com­mu­ni­ties – all while fu­el­ing eco­nomic growth in a way that can re­in­force and ac­cel­er­ate th­ese pro­cesses. More­over, ed­u­ca­tion pro­vides the skills peo­ple need to thrive in the new sus­tain­able econ­omy, work­ing in ar­eas such as re­new­able en­ergy, smart agri­cul­ture, for­est re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, the de­sign of re­source-ef­fi­cient cities, and sound man­age­ment of healthy ecosys­tems.

Per­haps most im­por­tant, ed­u­ca­tion can bring about a fun­da­men­tal shift in how we think, act, and dis­charge our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to­ward one an­other and the planet. Af­ter all, while fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives, tar­geted poli­cies, and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion are needed to catal­yse new ways of pro­duc­ing and con­sum­ing, they can­not re­shape peo­ple’s value sys­tems so that they will­ingly up­hold and ad­vance the prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Schools, how­ever, can nur­ture a new gen­er­a­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally savvy cit­i­zens to sup­port the tran­si­tion to a pros­per­ous and sus­tain­able fu­ture.

Some schools are al­ready be­com­ing learn­ing labs for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, where young stu­dents are be­ing pre­pared to adapt to and help mit­i­gate the con­se­quences of cli­mate change. Guided by the UNFCCC – as well as re­lated ini­tia­tives like the UN Al­liance on Cli­mate Change Ed­u­ca­tion, Train­ing, and Public Aware­ness – gov­ern­ments are in­creas­ingly in­te­grat­ing ed­u­ca­tion strate­gies, tools, and tar­gets into na­tional devel­op­ment poli­cies. The UNESCO-led UN Decade of Ed­u­ca­tion for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment, which be­gan in 2005, was ex­plic­itly in­tended to in­still in ev­ery hu­man be­ing “the knowl­edge, skills, at­ti­tudes, and val­ues nec­es­sary to shape a sus­tain­able fu­ture.”

To­gether, UNESCO and the UNFCCC are not only pro­mot­ing cli­mate-change ed­u­ca­tion in schools; they are also giv­ing teach­ers the tools and knowl­edge they need to pro­vide that ed­u­ca­tion through on­line cour­ses. Al­ready, more than 14 mln stu­dents and 1.2 mln teach­ers in 58 coun­tries have been en­gaged in such learn­ing, and 550 busi­ness schools have signed on to the Prin­ci­ples for Re­spon­si­ble Man­age­ment Ed­u­ca­tion, de­vel­oped by the UN Global Com­pact.

This progress, though im­por­tant, is just the be­gin­ning. What is needed now is a global move­ment, with ev­ery stu­dent in ev­ery coun­try learn­ing about sus­tain­able devel­op­ment from well-trained teach­ers, equipped with the ap­pro­pri­ate cur­ric­ula and re­sources. An am­bi­tious sus­tain­able devel­op­ment agenda, to­gether with a legally bind­ing global cli­mate deal, could go a long way to­ward catalysing such a move­ment.

Of course, we can­not se­cure a sus­tain­able fu­ture in a mat­ter of months. But, with a well-de­signed set of com­mit­ments and tar­gets, we can move onto the right path. And, with ef­fec­tive ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams that in­still in fu­ture gen­er­a­tions the im­por­tance of restor­ing Earth’s bal­ance and de­liv­er­ing a pros­per­ous fu­ture for the many, rather than the few, we can stay on that path.

That is the mes­sage that ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ters must em­pha­sise at their up­com­ing fo­rum, and that pol­i­cy­mak­ers should heed as they ne­go­ti­ate this year’s two crit­i­cal global agree­ments.

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