UNESCO Member States map the future of Education for Sustainable Development

Over 270 participants from 116 UNESCO Member States and Associate Members gathered in Bangkok, Thailand on 9 and 10 July 2018 to discuss which future direction governments and UNESCO should take in promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

With UNESCO’s Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP) ending in 2019, UNESCO is preparing the future programme for ESD, to be linked specifically to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNESCO Member States and Associate Members were invited to Bangkok to discuss a draft position paper on the future of ESD, prepared by UNESCO.

Opening the meeting, Ms Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, said: “ESD is at the forefront of a major trend in education. We are increasingly asking if what people learn is truly relevant to their lives, if what they learn helps to ensure the survival of our planet. ESD can provide the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower people to transform themselves and transform societies. ESD has therefore been duly recognized as part of the global education agenda – as a key element of Target 4.7 of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on Education. ESD is also a key enabler for the achievement of all the SDGs.”

Representing the Government of Japan, which kindly provided financial support to the meeting, Mr Yosuke Kobayashi, Director for International Strategic Planning at the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT), said: “The SDGs have strengthened the status of ESD, which fosters leaders who will build the sustainable societies of the future.”

Mrs Watanaporn Ra-Ngubtook, Deputy Minister of Education of the host country Thailand, said:  “In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to help each other. We should start by sharing what we have already done.”

The technical consultation meeting provided room for reflection and discussion in different settings, such as town hall debates touching on themes such as the SDGs, transformative action and the technological future, a world café session, panel debates, group work and regional discussions.

An important theme was the role of community as a platform for ESD action. An inspiring example was presented by sustainability practitioner Ms Tomi Matsuba, who lives in the village of Omori, Japan, whose inhabitants practice a very special sustainable lifestyle. The unique village, part of the silver mining area of Iwami-Ginzan, which is inscribed as a UNESCO cultural heritage site, has reinvented itself by exploring alternative paths to prosperity rooted in values of sustainability.

Another panel debate addressed the challenging relationship between sustainable development and economic growth, and how education could help reconcile the two. Professor Arjen Wals, who holds the UNESCO Chair at Wageningen University, Netherlands, said: “For the economy to grow, people need to buy new things all the time, which leads to the depletion of natural resources and the creation of waste and pollution. Furthermore, the current growth paradigm reduces human beings to consumers”. The panelists agreed that a fundamental change in the way we think and act was needed, and that education must promote alternative values to consumption.

The meeting made apparent the great commitment of Member States and Associate Members to taking ESD into the future and implementing ESD as a key tool to achieve the SDGs. The lively discussions led to numerous suggestions to be included in a revision of the UNESCO position paper on the future of ESD.

With the inputs from the meeting, UNESCO will further revise the position paper and conduct additional consultations online with the wider public in the coming months. The final position paper will be presented to UNESCO’s Executive Board in April 2019 and to UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2019 for approval, and to the UN General Assembly in autumn 2019 for acknowledgement. The new ESD programme, to be developed on the basis of the position paper, is scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2020, and to cover the period until 2030, in line with the target date of the SDGs.