Challenges for sustainability in Latin America and the Caribbean

© World Bank Photo Collection

Latin America and the Caribbean is made up of 41 extremely diverse countries - some middle income nations such as Mexico and Chile, and others that are less developed, such as Haiti; small island states, and vast territories such as Brazil and Argentina. In this context, the main challenges for sustainable development can vary from one country to the next, but a number of fundamental points run across the board.

Despite favourable economic development, 31.4% of the region’s population live in poverty (ECLAC, 2011). Latin America has the highest levels of income disparity in the world, and these inequalities are mirrored in access and quality in areas such as health, education, and basic services such as electricity and drinking water. The regions ecosystems are of global significance, including five of the ten most biodiverse countries on the planet (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru), and the eastern slopes of the Andes constitute the highest biodiversity area known. However, this richness is in grave danger - as these five countries are also among the 15 states with wildlife in greatest danger of extinction.

The region is also rich in cultural and linguistic diversity, with over 650 indigenous peoples speaking more than 600 languages. This diversity is a source of creativity, growth, and human development, but it can also give rise to overwhelming social tensions, exclusion, and discrimination.

The problems of global climate change and threats to biodiversity have been severely aggravated through a lack of protection for tropical forests. This has left the region even more vulnerable to extreme climate phenomena, such as cyclones, flooding, and droughts, particularly in the small Caribbean islands that are facing an ever-growing threat from rising sea levels.

Why education for sustainable development?

© UNESCO

UNESCO underscores education’s role in improving quality of life and levels of personal satisfaction, but most of all as one of the tools that society has at its disposal to make real changes.

In order to make our societies shift towards sustainability, we need a bedrock of citizens who are aware of the interrelatedness of social, economic, and environmental issues. We need education that nourishes critical thinking and changes in people’s behaviour, so that they can make decisions and take action in favour of global sustainability.

Current education practices have met with little success in teaching people how to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. If we are to change society, we must also change the ways in which we teach and learn. UNESCO promotes quality Education for Sustainable Development that ensures the relevance of teaching methods and content in making children and young people ready to build a development model that does not define success purely in terms of economic growth.

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