Background

A number of landmark events paved the way for the ESD Decade

In 1972, the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm) highlighted education as a means to address problems of human environment.

The Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” (1987), defined sustainable development as a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. These early debates already discussed the role of education in addressing global social, economic, cultural and environmental challenges.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro recognized the role of education in achieving sustainable development in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21. Ever since, further major UN Conferences and documents have confirmed the importance of education for achieving sustainable development, including  the Rio Conventions on climate change, biodiversity and desertification.

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)

Based on a recommendation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002), the United Nations General Assembly decided to dedicate a UN Decade to ESD (2005-2014) in December 2002. It designated UNESCO to coordinate global efforts to make education relevant for addressing present and future sustainable development challenges.

Halfway through the Decade, UNESCO and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, in cooperation with the German Commission for UNESCO, organized the first UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in 2009 in Bonn, Germany. The conference took stock of achievements of the first years and gave new impetus for the second half of the Decade.

Three key issues

Based on the outcome document of the World Conference 2009, the Bonn Declaration, and a newly elaborated strategy for the second half of the Decade, UNESCO has focused its work on three key sustainable development issues: climate change, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction, to be addressed through education.

The assessment reports on the Decade of ESD, published by UNESCO in 2009 and 2012, have shown that ESD is more and more present in national and international education policies. ESD pedagogies are advancing, and practitioners around the world undertake a large amount of high-quality ESD activities.

ESD after the Decade

While great advances have been made, a great deal remains to be done. The potential of ESD to shape a sustainable future remains crucial at the end of its Decade. In a world facing ever more complex sustainable development challenges, it is as important as ever to make use of the promise that ESD represents.

The ESD journey will go on after 2014. At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, countries acknowledged the importance of ESD in the outcome document, and made a commitment to strengthening it beyond the end of the Decade.

The 2014 ESD World Conference therefore not only marks the end of the ESD Decade, but an important milestone for pointing the way ahead.

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