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The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)

Untitled Document

“Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)” is a concept that goes far beyond environmental education. It is the educational process of achieving human development (“the three pillars of human development” proposed by UNDP: economic growth, social development, and environmental protection) in an inclusive, equitable and secure manner. It thus includes education for poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equality, cultural diversity, international understanding, peace and many more.

UNESCO proposed that the vision of education for sustainable development is a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quality education and learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation. For more information, please visit the UNESCO website on Education for Sustainable Development

Additional Resources
Flash movie on the DESD developed by UNEP
UNEP's Strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
[Download 3.7MB]

The concept of sustainable development touches upon all aspects of the social and institutional fabric. In this sense sustainable development provides a way of articulating the overall social project and aim of development. Since the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, there has been increasing recognition of the critical role of education in promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns in order to change attitudes and behavior of people as individuals, including as producers and consumers, and as citizens.

Other related international education initiatives look at education as a fundamental human right and focus on providing educational opportunities to everyone and reducing illiteracy. However, ESD focuses on the underlying principles and values conveyed through education and the content and purpose of education. Chapter 36 of Agenda 21specifically discusses re-orienting education towards sustainable development, and encompasses all streams of education, both formal and non-formal, basic education and all the key issues related to educating for sustainable human development.

In spite of multiple efforts to strengthen ESD, many challenges remain. In particular, there is a need:

•  to integrate sustainable science and education;

•  to strengthen co-ordination and collaboration between different levels of education for SD; and

•  to mitigate information and knowledge gaps between different parts of the world.

Based on the proposals by Japan and Sweden , the United Nations General Assembly, at its 58 th Session in December 2002, adopted a resolution to start the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) from January 2005, following the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. In preparation for the decade, UNEP focal points on EET from divisional and regional offices met in Nairobi, Kenya on the 12 and 13 of June 2003 to formulate a UNEP EET strategy to clearly articulate an appropriate path for UNEP during the decade. The goal was to achieve greater impact and strengthened delivery of EET programmes within the context of ESD. Resulting from this meeting, a strategic framework for EET in UNEP containing a plan of action spelling out UNEP's involvement in the environment component of the DESD and an introductory guide on UNEP's programmes and resources for environmental education and training was produced. The term “action planning” used in the strategy document signifies that it is a living document.

One of UNEP's flagship programmes for the Decade is the MESA Universities Partnership. MESA , which stands for Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities, captures the bigger picture of sustainable development – adding to it purpose, focus, value, vision and the vital intergenerational connection.

MESA has been developed by UNEP and its partners to mainstream environment and sustainability concerns into the teaching, research, community engagement and management of universities in Africa . The quality and policy relevance that the MESA Universities Partnership offers in educations for sustainable development will enable universities to:

•  Enhance quality and policy relevance of university education in Africa in the context of sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

•  Increase knowledge on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), so that future business managers, scientists and political leaders of the continent will incorporate values and principles of sustainable development in their decision-making.

•  Raise awareness and spread a new way of thinking about environment, development and society, beyond the university boundaries inside the many other societal circles in which students, teachers and managers live.

•  Create opportunities for collaborative projects between universities, civil society, communities and the private sector.

•  Contribute to the revitalization of Africa 's higher education system and strengthening of African scholarship and African partnerships for sustainable development.

The MESA Universities Partnership also supports the New Partnership for Africa 's Development (NEPAD) Environmental Action Plan and the objectives of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). One of the strategic actions in the NEPAD Environmental Action Plan is the ‘development of capacity in all aspects of environmental issues in Africa '. Universities will have to play a key role in strengthening capacity for sustainable development through Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) initiatives.

The MESA Partnership Programme offers students, lecturers and university leaders a broad orientation to Sustainable Development and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It provides universities, civil society, communities and the private sector a platform for dialogue on sustainable development. Furthermore, MESA furnishes participants with a range of innovative tools and strategies to implement ESD-innovations within their sphere of influence and in different university contexts.