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Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

UN DESD launch video
A five minute video on the official international launch of the Decade for Sustainable Development on 1 March 2005 in New York, USA. This video was produced by the Centre for Environment Education, India.

In its 57th meeting in December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005- 2014,  (DESD) 'emphasizing that education is an indispensable element for achieving sustainable development'. It also designated UNESCO as the lead agency to promote and implement the Decade.

The vision of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 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.  
ESD is for everyone, at all stages of life and in all possible learning contexts. ESD employs a partnership approach that engages multiple sectors and stakeholders – including media agencies and the private sector – and utilizes all forms and methods of public awareness raising, education and training to promote a broad understanding of sustainable development.  
ESD equally addresses all three pillars of sustainable development - society, environment and economy - with culture as an essential additional and underlying dimension. By embracing these elements in a holistic and integrated manner, ESD enables all individuals to fully develop the knowledge, perspectives, values and skills necessary to take part in decisions to improve the quality of life both locally and globally on terms which are most relevant to their daily lives.

For further details on ESD, see the FAQ below. We also invite queries on the same. You can submit your query in the Write to Us section.

FAQ: Education for Sustainable Development

What is Education for Sustainable Development?

“Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)” is a concept that goes far beyond environmental education. ESD 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.

Why ESD?

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. If other related international education initiatives look at education as a fundamental human right and focus on providing educational opportunities to everyone and reducing illiteracy, 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.

What are the main challenges of education for sustainable future?

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

  1. to integrate sustainable science and education;
  2. to strengthen co-ordination and collaboration between different levels of education for SD; and
  3. to mitigate information and knowledge gaps between different parts of the world.

What is the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)?

Based on the proposals by Japan and Sweden , the United Nations General Assembly, at its 58th 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.

UNESCO was designated to be the lead agency for the Decade and developed a draft International Implementation Scheme for the DESD.

What is the relation between the DESD and other international initiatives to promote education as a fundamental human right?

We need to situate the DESD in relation to other international initiatives that are already in place, in particular the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) process, the Education for All (EFA) movement, and the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD).
All of these global initiatives aim to achieve an improvement in the quality of life, particularly for the most deprived and marginalised, fulfillment of human rights including gender equality, poverty reduction, democracy and active citizenship. If the MDGs provide a set of tangible and measurable development goals within which education is a significant input and indicator; if EFA focuses on ways of providing educational opportunities to everyone, and if the UNLD concentrates on promoting the key learning tool for all forms of structured learning, DESD is more concerned than the other three initiatives with the content and purpose of education. Conceiving and designing ESD challenges all forms of educational provision to adopt practices and approaches which foster the values of sustainable development

 What are the major international efforts undertaken in the area of ESD?

Since the Earth Summit, sustainable development has been high on the political agenda. The Agenda 21, in its Chapter 36, specifically discusses promoting education, public awareness and training with special emphasis on

  1. reorienting education towards sustainable development
  2. increasing public awareness
  3. and promoting training.

During the World Conference on Higher Education in 1998, a thematic debate was organised (by the UNU at the request of UNESCO) on “sustainable (human) development,” which brought fourteen different organizations together. This was the first major step towards uniting educators as a major stakeholder group.

The following year the first discussions were held to form the Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership. In 2000 the Agreement was signed and during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF), Copernicus Campus, and UNESCO launched the Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership (GHESP) as a Type II Partnership to promote education for sustainable development in particular among higher education institutions. The Japanese as well as Swedish Governments chose education for sustainable development as the focus of their contributions.

During the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the UNU-IAS took the lead in bringing together the Ubuntu Declaration Group for the signature of the Ubuntu Declaration in an effort to integrate science, technology and ESD.

[sources: UNESCO Bangkok Website & United Nations University: Institute of Advanced Studies' Website]