A worldwide priority: how sustainable development relates to international goals

EFA, Literacy, Millennium Development Goals… These are corner stones for any international development work. How does Sustainable Development (SD) fit in? This page gives a quick view of how Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is at the crossroads of major UN initiatives.


Timeline: SD and ESD become world priorities

  • 1987, definition of SD: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” (Brundtland report)
  • 1992, Rio Conference and Agenda 21: 187 countries commit to SD at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
  • 2002, Johannesburg WSSD (World Summit on SD): national education systems should link environment, society and economy.
  • 2002, UNESCO designated lead agency of the DESD (Decade of Education for SD, 2005-2014) by the UN General Assembly.
  • 2005, International launch of the DESD (2005-2014) 

Major UN priorities share a common vision: education is the key to sustainable development

To improve quality of life for all, the UN uses several strategies with shared goals - but different approaches:

  • EFA: ways of ensuring quality basic education for all
  • The UN Literacy Decade: promotes literacy, a key tool within EFA
  • The MDGs (Millennium Development Goals): target poverty, with a set of measurable goals (basic education as a significant input and indicator).
  • DESD: aims to integrate SD principles into all aspects of education and learning.

Download the brochure on Links between the Global Initiatives in Education (2005)

Why educate for sustainable development (SD)?

An understanding of the concept of SD enables individuals to grasp their role and the causes of our damaged world.

They can then consume, produce and act sustainably.


It's our mission, it’s our responsibility

SD is closely bound with the mission of the UN, and of UNESCO:

  • human rights, peace, health, poverty reduction… 
  • environmental protection 

And of course, education and culture 




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