Sustainable Development

“We hold the future in our hands, together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2007

In order to understand Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), one needs to understand sustainable development. After all, the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is about engaging the world’s educational systems to work for a more sustainable future. However, we need to envision a more sustainable world before we work towards creating it.

Sustainable development is the overarching paradigm of the United Nations. The concept of sustainable development was described by the 1987 Bruntland Commission Report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” 

There are four dimensions to sustainable development – society, environment, culture and economy – which are intertwined, not separate. Sustainability is a paradigm for thinking about the future in which environmental, societal and economic considerations are balanced in the pursuit of an improved quality of life. For example, a prosperous society relies on a healthy environment to provide food and resources, safe drinking water and clean air for its citizens. 

One might ask, what is the difference between sustainable development and sustainability? Sustainability is often thought of as a long-term goal (i.e. a more sustainable world), while sustainable development refers to the many processes and pathways to achieve it (e.g. sustainable agriculture and forestry, sustainable production and consumption, good government, research and technology transfer, education and training, etc.).

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