By Meghna Tare
Sustainability Education, also known as Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), has been recognized as a critical tool for the transition to sustainable development particularly since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, where Agenda 21, a framework for action, was agreed by 178 member states.
In 2002, 191 member states got together in Johannesburg in South Africa to assess the progress of the outcomes based on Agenda 21 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). They also reviewed Agenda 21 and renewed member states' commitments in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. UN General Assembly also adopted a resolution announcing the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD, 2005-2014) with the initiative of the Japanese government, and the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was assigned as the lead agency for accelerating the efforts of member states toward ESD.
In 2003, in response to the UN resolution on the UNDESD, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) launched the ESD project, including a global multi-stakeholder network of the Regional Centers of Expertise on ESD (RCEs). An RCE is an existing formal, non-formal and informal organization that facilitates learning towards sustainable development in local and regional communities. As of December 2017, 154 RCEs have officially been acknowledged by the United Nations University worldwide, and there have been various collaborative projects implemented by them.
After the UNDESD ended in 2014, member states have agreed to advance commitments toward ESD through the Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD with five priority areas of action: advancing policy by mainstreaming ESD, transforming learning and training environments using the whole-institution approach, building capacities of educators and trainers, empowering and mobilizing youth, and finally accelerating sustainable solutions at the local level. At all levels of society, RCEs play a crucial role in implementing these goals using their local knowledge and global network. Many RCE members are assigned as the Partner Network agencies by UNESCO to lead the world's efforts toward GAP.
ESD is also recognized as a key element of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4) under Target 4.7 and is considered a very important driver for the achievements of all other SDGs.
ESD aims to bring behavior changes to promote sustainability and it is critical to protect natural resources of the planet for future generations. There are cities and regions promoting sustainability throughout the United States, and there are various sustainability initiatives and projects implemented by the city government, NGOs, private sectors and individuals. An RCE can connect all these actors and accelerate collective impacts over the region, and also provides opportunities to impact the global policies such as GAP on ESD and SDGs through the UN platforms provided by the headquarter of RCEs, UNU. It can also connect the region with other 154 RCEs worldwideto work together and share experiences and challenges of projects on biodiversity, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, engaging youth, promoting higher education, etc. It is valuable to analyze the needs and benefits for establishing an RCE by scaling up local efforts to promote sustainability, increase awareness of ESD, and accelerate collaboration and collective impact.
The genesis of the RCE is a realization by the Institutions of Higher Education that, after implementing sustainability programs on their own campuses, the time is right to bring their knowledge and expertise outside their campus gates and partner at a broader regional scale for a multi-sector approach to education for sustainable development. It also engenders a culture of learning and continuous improvement, providing opportunities for students of all ages to contribute to these efforts and shape new ones.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” Sharing ideas and best practices and educating through the RCE gives everyone a chance to gain from the process. RCEs have the potential to tie together economic, environmental and social aspects that reflect the complexity of the pressing issues faced by a region. It also draws people together: The success of sustainability initiatives requires engagement, participation, and collaboration at all levels of the university, across campus and beyond. Working together is vital in any successful endeavor, and sharing ideas is especially important in education.
About the Author: Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, received Woman of the Decade In CSR award by the Women Economic Forum, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management. You can connect with her on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/meghnatare/ or follow her on twitter @meghnatare