Published: People’s Reporter Issue, February 25 – March 10, 2005

By George Cheriyan

Education for sustainable development (ESD) is a dynamic concept that utilizes all aspects of public awareness, education and training to create or enhance an understanding of the linkages among the issues of sustainable development.

‘We accept our responsibility and we urge all people to join us in doing all we can to pursue the principles of the Decade with humility, inclusivity, and a strong sense of humanity. We invite wide participation through networks, partnerships, and institutions. As we gather in the city, where Mahatma Gandhi lived and worked, we remember his words: “Education for life; education through life; education throughout life,” says the one page crisp and brief Ahmedabad Declaration made on January 20th, 2005 by more than 800 learners, thinkers, practitioners and activists from over 40 countries at the Education for a Sustainable Future conference held in Ahmedabad, India marking the beginning of UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).

Why a decade on ESD?

The 1992 Earth Summit marked the beginning of an unprecedented effort to understand and work toward achieving ‘sustainable development’, addressing human needs holistically by integrating environmental, economic and social goals. The world Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg (2002), re-emphasized the vital role of education, not only in building awareness of the need for sustainable development, but in fostering the necessary changes to bring it about at all levels. As a continuation of this the UN will launch the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).

The UN has appointed UNESCO as its Lead Agency for planning and executing the activities of the Decade. As the lead agency, UNESCO developed a draft International Implementation Scheme (IIS), to establish the DESD’s relationship with other global initiatives already in existence.

The UNESCO strategy for the Decade states: “Education for sustainable development has come to be seen as a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and equity of all communities. Building the capacity for such futures-oriented thinking is a key task of education.”

Many reports, conferences and action plans have defined what needs to be done to achieve sustainable development, but progress has been slow, and the global environment continues to deteriorate. This failure has largely been due to a lack of political will and motivation to make the necessary changes in individual lifestyles and social action. This is the reason for the planned UN Decade. ‘We firmly believe that a key to sustainable development is the empowerment of all people, according to the principles of equity and social justice, and that a key to such empowerment is action-oriented education’ further says the Ahmedabad Declaration. The biggest challenge now is to take an idea that sounds abstract, sustainable development, and turn it into a reality for all the peoples of the world.

Shape the World of Tomorrow

More than the dissemination of information and knowledge, the key role of Education and Communication in enabling and enhancing sustainable development is now recognised. Education for sustainable development (ESD) is a dynamic concept that utilizes all aspects of public awareness, education and training to create or enhance an understanding of the linkages among the issues of sustainable development. Education for sustainable development is a vision of education that seeks to balance human and economic well being with cultural traditions and respect for the earth’s natural resources. ESD applies trans-disciplinary educational methods and approaches to develop an ethic for lifelong learning; fosters respect for human needs that are compatible with sustainable use of natural resources and the needs of the planet; and nurtures a sense of global solidarity.

Pursuing sustainable development through education requires educators and learners to reflect critically on their own communities; identify non-viable elements in their lives; and explore tensions among conflicting values and goals.

Key Agent

Education as the foundation of sustainable development is now reaffirmed. The Plan of Implementation recognised education as critical for sustainable development in its own right, but also saw education as a key agent for change and a tool for addressing such questions as gender equality, rural development, health care, HIV/AIDS and consumption patterns.

‘All must struggle with how to live and work in a way that protects the environment, advances social justice, and promotes economic fairness for present and future generations. We must learn how to resolve conflicts, create a caring society, and live in peace. ESD must start with examining our own lifestyles and our willingness to model and advance sustainability in our communities. We pledge to share our diverse experiences and collective knowledge to refine the vision of sustainability while continually expanding its practice. Through our actions we will add substance and vigor to the UN-DESD processes. We are optimistic that the objectives of the Decade will be realized and move forward from Ahmedabad in a spirit of urgency, commitment, hope, and enthusiasm’, concludes the Ahmedabad declaration.